Hi. I'm David Zetland -- redditor, water economist, author of Living with Water Scarcity and professor at Leiden University College in Den Haag, The Netherlands.

I'm here to answer any and all questions about water policy and economics, i.e., on topics such as groundwater depletion, drought and shortage, floods and storms, environmental flows, human rights, bottled water, fracking, dead rivers, big dams, privatization, meters, corruption, water in slums, etc. I've looked into water issues in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, China, India, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Australia, NZ, S Africa, Brazil, Peru, Iceland... Just ask... I have lots of opinions and quite a few facts :)

Proof via Twitter

Edit: I'm recommending my book because it's FREE TO DOWNLOAD

15:40 UTC: I'll be back in a few hours. Keep asking (and upvoting) Qs!

19:15 UTC: I'm taking a dinner break. Back in a few hrs.

  • Some reading: the difference between the price, cost and value of water
  • I don't work for Nestle. I'm a bad consultant b/c I don't tell clients what they want to hear. You can read my CV (PDF) if you want to see who's paid me.
  • Remember that there's a HUGE difference between "wholesale" water (ag, enviro, markets) and "retail" drinking water (utility, monopoly, regulations). I discuss these, as well as "economic vs social" water in Parts I and II of my book (yes, its free b/c my JOB is helping people understand these issues).

21:15 Ok, I'm going to respond to top-voted comments. Glad this is popular and I hope you're learning something useful (if only my opinion).

22:20 Sorry folks, I'm literally overwhelmed with questions. Please UPVOTE and I will go for the top ones in the morning (about 9 hrs)

11:00 on 12 Nov: Ok, I'm done here.

  • Thanks for all the great questions.
  • Ctrl F here if I didn't get to your Q
  • Google keywords at aguanomics (5,000+ posts) for more
  • Read my book (really) if you want to think about the tradeoffs for different uses. It's free
  • Many water problems can be addressed by better governance, which requires citizen participation
  • Here's a blog post with lots of water jobs
  • Follow your interests in life. There are lots of cool jobs, people and places

Comments: 2195 • Responses: 77  • Date: 

kaleidoscope_eyez696 karma

What is your opinion on the bottled water industry?

davidzet275 karma

It's like the soft drink industry. Both need to worry about groundwater supplies and litter. Both promise quality and advertise WAY ahead of what they deliver.

DonFitzcarraldo23 karma

Both promise quality and advertise WAY ahead of what they deliver.

Regarding the US specifically, I've heard that on the whole, bottled water is subject to more lax purity standards than municipal tap water, with the former being under FDA jurisdiction and the latter being under EPA jurisdiction. I'm sure this depends on the state and municipality, but have you found this to be generally true?

Source: ex-roommate works for the EPA inspecting municipal wastewater systems in the Northeast US.

davidzet35 karma

Two systems, but they DO cross check. The problem (as with USDA, FDA, et al) is lack of inspectors to enforce laws...

theschenker231 karma

Specifically nestle

ExplainsSocialEnigma107 karma

All economists agree with Peter Brabeck-Letmathe's opinion because it's orthodox water management. If water is scarce and you make it free and don't limit access, then people will waste it and die of thirst. You need mechanisms to limit access of scarce resources otherwise the resources will disappear: this is exactly how animals get hunted to extinction and has been properly understood for centuries as the tragedy of the commons.

hillsfar79 karma

Unfortunately, that's not how it [Edit: i.e. "orthodox water management"] has happened in California, and that's why 80% of the water goes to agriculture though it is only 1% to 2% of GDP.

And of all of California's water, a full 10% goes to growing almonds (it takes 1 gallon of water to grow just one almond). 90% of the world's almonds are from California, and they're shipped around the world. The farmers who hold the senior water rights pay very little for it. Others keep drilling deeper and deeper wells, which cause the ground to sink.

And isn't it interesting that dairy farms in China buy hay grown in California to feed their cows - when we could ship dried milk and cheese from water-rich Pacific Northwest or the Midwest) to capture the entire value-add?

Or how about water-intensive rice growing that requires flooding? Why not grow rice in places like Thailand, where water is abundant?

And they tell ordinary residential users to conserve...

davidzet25 karma

CA water (like lots of water W of Miss) is allocated "first in time, first in right' which meant ag.

Your other observations are "right" in their perversity, but it's not obvious that ending ag rights would affect that (cities wouldn't increase use by 3-4x)

That said, the "save 20% of 2020" only applies to cities :-\

davidzet22 karma

Not sure of his opinion, but there's a role for economic incentives (prices lower Q demanded of water) as well as a role for social programs (e.g, welfare, environmental water flows). I try to reconcile these views in my book (Parts I and II)

ohgodwhatthe22 karma

So your solution is to privatize a public resource to cause private profit in perpetuum instead of public, centralized price and resource control at cost to benefit everybody?

I don't know what kind of idiot or fanatic you'd have to be to think that it is in any way a good thing to give a private, for profit entity indefinite control over distribution of a resource that literally everybody needs or they will die.

davidzet68 karma

it's very common (and a good idea) for the gov't to charge for use of the "public" resource. You see LOTS of examples of abuse where this does not happen. You ALSO see lots of abuse where the "public" resource is misdirected to friends of politicians.

Chapter 6 of my book discusses...

djcr42115 karma

this is actually a good way to think about it. Not sure if I'm a fan, but a lot of logical things aren't huge in popular opinion.

ohgodwhatthe44 karma

No, the logical solution would be public ownership of water supplies so that you're not lining the pockets of a few rich assholes in the process for eternity. There's no need for profit in water distribution. Charging anything at all would have the same effect as described, but public ownership would be cheaper and "profit" could be invested back into maintenance, upgrades, and expansion of distribution systems.

davidzet21 karma

Not true. Public utilities can waste "public" water. See "public choice"

davidzet37 karma

Biggest bottler. Good news (QC/QA) bad news (market power).

No bottler -- even Nestle -- can do the damage of a big gov't dept (e.g., Bureau of Reclamation in the US)

Kittens4Brunch32 karma

Is Fiji water actually different?

davidzet48 karma

I'm not in total agreement with other replies, so I'll just add that Fiji Water is nothing special, but VERY heavy in carbon footprint.

I've been to Fiji (and ALMOST talked to FW), and it's true that the people drink lower quality water (in cities)

33degree23 karma

From other posts its easy to see that this guy is a proponent of privatized water. Water is a commodity now and no longer a public utility which everyone has fair access to. As he has responded in the question below, there is nothing an average citizen can do.

"Aggies" will decide the future and water will go to the highest bidder. Nestle, Monsanto, etc. Will decide who does and does not get water and he is saying it openly in the thread. You think citizens united is bad? You think net neutrality is important? Wait til some corporate think tank decides there's not enough water for the plebs. And this guy is the "scientist" defining all the talking points right here and now. Don't like it? What are you... "anti-science"?

davidzet45 karma

You're wrong in terms of my beliefs. I've said here, and written hundreds of times, that there are problems on the public and private side. When it comes to (monopolistic) utilities, you need to worry about the regulators.

it's sad that you are making up stuff I've never said and don't believe.

Amadeus_IOM217 karma

Hello. I live in Manila, where the tab water is not as clean as in other countries, so we don't drink it. Do you know what it would take to make it drinking water, just in general? Also, any interesting water facts about the Philippines? We have loads of slums and corruption here, coupled with massive flooding and the biologically dead Pasig River flowing through town. As far as improving water quality is concerned, what would you say is the best way?

davidzet344 karma

Yep. Tough problems. Leaking pipes are the start, as they lose water and allow contaminants to get clean water (from the treatment plant) dirty. neighborhoods should look at small scale treatment for sale facilities (see photo with bottles here: http://www.aguanomics.com/2010/04/travelblog-indonesia-photos-i.html).

Corrupt people don't care about slums, so they need to take care of themselves. For drinking, you can use filters and chlorine, but it's MUCH better to have drinkable tap water for cooking, showering, etc.

Get your neighbors together. After you get 100, look into larger filters. After 1,000, you can build a larger system. They are affordable, even in slums, when shared among many...

ps: download my free book and read chapters 2 and 6.

juicejug203 karma

There is a pretty severe drought right now in California and lots of places in the southwest US get droughts regularly. Which places in the US, if any, are at risk of becoming too dry to continue to inhabit or utilize agriculturally?

[edited for tense]

davidzet257 karma

Many places have avoided the impact of drought by "mining" groundwater to replace lower surface flows. (This includes the famous "Dust Bowl" states that were not tapping the Ogallala as much in the 20s/30s.) Those places are going to HIT THE WALL in the future, even with the same droughts, b/c their g/w will be gone. As usual, ag will get hit first (they cannot afford to pay so much), leaving cities like Phoenix and Vegas in the desert.

juicejug80 karma

Thanks for the reply! That's what I'm worried about. What can normal citizens do to reduce the shock of a large ag center like California being completely without water?

davidzet173 karma

Normal citizens? Nada, really, as aggies run this show. The recent move to monitor/regulate groundwater is good, but implementation looks lame.

Water markets -- by putting a PRICE on water and allocating by VALUE -- will make it easier to identify who "needs" it more than others. Those markets are hard to implement (regulations, command and control, environment, end of taking for free) but better than the alternatives.

Put an emphasis on FLEXIBILITY. It's currently hard to sell water to neighbors in many places (different ag districts).

Check out my book to explore how "all the flows" interact :)

potatoisafruit26 karma

So if you had property in California...when would you sell?

What's the timeline for the bottom falling out on this market because of water?

davidzet26 karma

The bottom will NOT fall out of the market for most residential RE. farms will have problems and some suburbs. As others have said, CA will move to desal (or, better, recycled wastewater) and people will have smaller lawns.

chaosmosis15 karma

I've heard that subsidies are distorting market incentives and encouraging people to grow water-intensive corn in regions where other crops would be more appropriate. Could you elaborate on what crops you think make a good fit in which parts of the US?

davidzet38 karma

ZERO subsidies for crops would result in better patterns and less mono cropping (it would ALSO result in more "garden" crops grown outside Cali.)

Farmers can figure stuff out (based on water, soil, markets), but subsidies push them all one way. Helps Agribiz, not small/smart farmers

BoBeard27133 karma

Hello Dr. Zetland. I am a research scientist volunteering in Nepal for 6 months and I am transitioning my career to global health, specifically drinking water contamination. I am very interested in drug resistant gram-negative bacteria and the growing issue of co-selection of heavy metal/metalloid resistance and antibiotic resistance. There is some survey data that has described water supplies contaminated with arsenic seem to increasingly co-select drug resistance in gram-negative bacteria. This is likely due the selective pressure of arsenic and the genetic linkage of arsenic resistance genes and drug resistance genes on plasmids or other extra-chromosomal elements.

Now to my question, to do this work I need to get some seed funding. Do you have any suggestions about organizations that might be open to funding a small pilot study to get started?

davidzet134 karma

Wow. You're working on one of the "fear frontiers" and I hope you can update me later (guest blog post?). On funding, there are the usual gov't sources (NSF, DG R&I), but I'd recommend the major food companies (Coke, Pepsi, SAB Miller et al.) as their products depend on clean water. Some utilities (Singapore PUB; Israel's Merkot?) also fund research that they want to implement. There are MANY NGOs, but few are really into research.

SandD0llar96 karma

I love this topic. Thanks for doing this AMA I'm a little out of loop on water issues, so if I may:

  1. Back in the 80s and 90s, "they" were saying that we'd run out drinkable water by 2020 or so. Do people in your circles think that?

  2. What's your take on undamming rivers to return them to their natural state and allow wildlife to use them freely versus farmers' water rights?

  3. In light of the recent droughts in the Southwest, what are viable options for the government to obtain drinking water for people if the reservoirs continue to dry out/not be replenished by the snowmelt? I've read various ideas but they all seem very expensive.

Thank you!

davidzet117 karma

  1. Nope. You can get as much as you want with $ (energy, equipment, pipes).
  2. I LOVE breaking down dams, but rights are tricky. I'd recommend reauthorizing dams IN EXCHANGE for energy companies ripping out other, obsolete dams (cap and trade), incl the cost of buying out farmers.
  3. Raise the price of water so people let their lawns die. Read Chps 1 & 2 of my book.

drmamm51 karma

LOVE #3. Water is way too cheap in many areas.

And the problem isn't that the homeowners will get fleeced (you can implement a "stairstep" pricing regime based on usage), it's that the farmers will pay much more, and complain to their congressmen, and the reforms will come unravelled.

Why RICE is farmed in arid California completely dumbfounds me!!!

davidzet31 karma

it's farmed in clay soils on flood flows :)

Circusmidget6 karma

For the non agriculturalian what does that mean?

davidzet7 karma

bad soil except for pools in which you grow rice w/ flood water

SandD0llar19 karma

Re #3. The problem with that is many neighborhoods, particularly in urban and suburban zones, have HOAs that mandate that lawns are maintained. And getting those rules changed can be difficult. Most homeowners can't afford getting fines and liens slapped on their homes. So it's a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

The other issue is there are many people living paycheck to paycheck. There are no way, afaik, for the water utility companies to discern whether a home has been using the water for drinking, cleaning, and showering versus for lawn maintenance or pools. Raising the price of water would be problematic for these people.

ViceroyFizzlebottom17 karma

Phoenix area water policies are pretty responsible. I work for local government and we limit sod, require xeriscape, and parks/golf courses must use reclaimed water. We recharge 2/3 of the Colorado water received and have redundant reservoir systems plus fairly decent aquifers. Ag still gets away with Murder--growing corn, alfalfa and other high water plants.

I hesitate to say Phoenix can be sustained longterm, but we seem to be doing better than many Southwest cities.

davidzet12 karma

Phoenix has done surprisingly well. The CAP needs markets, so farmers stop wasting use it or lose it water

Kaasindekoelkast72 karma


davidzet113 karma

bad Bad BAD. No governance, water used for qat, nobody cares about future (wars, poverty, qat). Yemen was magic when I visited (1998), but now it's going back to sand. They will have to abandon Sana'a, I think -- or wait for 50 years (no irrigation) to refill aquifers.


If you've been keeping an eye on Ireland's recent implementation of water conservation and taxes.

  1. How do you feel about their method or way of introducing it?

  2. Would you have a better implementation of it than what is being proposed or done so far?

davidzet55 karma

I haven't followed the details, but lots of people will be upset to move from rates to volumetric pricing, especially if service is still crap.

I would have rolled it out gradually, with borrowing (not easy in IE) to pay for improvements and higher charges to REPAY those debts. This is the normal model that most of the world followed 50-100 years ago.

Gradually could have gone one community at a time, in an order determined by their vote in favor (or $$ committment), so that those in a hurry to get good service could go first.

There's also an ideological problem. Plenty of systems were build as a social service (like police or fire) not a service for hire (like phones), so some people object to that reverse in the "social contract."

I think it's better to move it to pay for service, but you've ALSO got to make sure the poor don't suffer, etc.

I have a related paper here: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2352674

King__Of__The__North14 karma

The general consensus in Ireland is that this is a money making exercise, pushed upon the government to service bailout debts. And that the utility will be sold off to a private concern once it's properly up and running.

What are your thought on calls for a referendum to ensure that won't happen?

davidzet4 karma

Ow. Definitely possible.

The law can be amended so revenue is used for water services and privatization is off the table. Fine with me.

ComboForTheStorm57 karma

Is it okay to drink from the back of the toilet?

davidzet51 karma

Yes (it's usually drinking water) BUT the tank should be clean of crap.

shitiforgotmypasswor57 karma

Sao Paulo/Brazil is going through the thoughest drought ever, having used almost all water from the nearby reservatories. What can you tell about it?

davidzet60 karma

Terrible problem (other places will go there too, e.g., using up ground water). I think it was caused by a combination of low preparedness, (too) low prices, and a poorly maintained and managed network. I think I read that 40+ percent leaks away.

The poor will probably suffer, but the rich will lose their lawns and pools. Hopefully, there will be a big move to improve management, but Brazil has LOTS of issues in that area. Best chance will be some cities get it together and show others how it's done.

More dams are not really the answer vs. demand management.

Got a link: 180 liters/capita/day and 40% leaks. Improve those #s and problem solved (for now)

IamA_KoalaBear52 karma

Are Nestle really evil and stealing all of our water to sell back to us in the future at ridiculous prices? This might sound like a stupid question, but I see it so often on here that it's starting to worry me.

davidzet95 karma

No. There's a BIG anti-capitalism movement and Nestle is a bug bear. If they "took it" governments could take it back.

I'd worry MUCH more about the government making wrong policies...

Gastronomicus56 karma

It's not just an anti-capitalism movement. It's an ethical issue of privatisation of natural resources necessary for life, and nestle has been front and centre to making the poor pay for a resource they've always been able to freely access and that no one had traditionally owned.

mydoingthisright38 karma

Professor Zetland's point is that the problem lies more with corrupt politicians' willingness to accept bribes to enact terrible policies. Yes, it's unethical of corporations to offer bribes, but it's more so for the politicans to accept them. I'm guessing his reasoning for this is that we elect these individuals into office and so they therefore work for us. If we don't like their unethical decisions, we shouldn't be re-electing them and we as citizens should be doing more to enact policies that don't allow for such situations to occur at all.

davidzet12 karma

Well said

davidzet5 karma

You have it wrong. Nestle sells bottled water. The poor lack DRINKING water from utilities (private or public)

lukton42 karma

Hi there!

I live in Melbourne, Australia and in the first decade of the new millennium, we went through a drought that rendered our water storage levels dangerously low. As a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, our government hastily spent BILLIONS of dollars building a desalination plant, because I guess they saw the possibility of our water reserves running dry. Shortly after construction of the plant had gone past the point of no return, we had record breaking rainfalls which basically filled our water storages, and continue to have very good rainfalls year on year. We are still paying money for our desalination plant via a water levy (tax), and will continue to pay it until we have completely paid off, which will be in about a decade or so, and the plant is yet to deliver us with a single drop of water.

My question is do you think that building the plant was a good idea back then, and do you think it is a good idea to have it for the future of Melbourne? Do you think in the foreseeable future we will ever turn it on?

davidzet122 karma

Good question. The plant is an insurance policy. You don't always need insurance... until you do.

42fortytwo4242 karma

how likely is worldwide water privatization by big companies like nestle etc, and how far off could that be?

davidzet18 karma

Impossible. There are 50,000+ utilities in the US, "only" 20 in the UK. FAR FEWER energy companies and those are pvt and public. ALL are regulated by govt that can take them over. China? Russia? Water is often poliitcal and the most corrupt gov'ts will never privatize, since they can steal far more.

Further, there's very little $ to make off tap water. It's a utility after all.

As I've said before, WATCH THE REGULATORS if you're worried about Nestle, the poor, corruption, etc.

maganda122037 karma

What does California need to do to solve (both in the short-term and long-term) the drought/water shortages it is currently facing?

davidzet97 karma

(1) Raise the price of water so people don't have lawns in the desert (2) Protect groundwater and use aquifers (3) Allow water markets, so ag can reposition/shrink (4) STOP subsidizing sprawl (via cheap water)

OB1_kenobi33 karma

Based on your knowledge of major trends, what will be the biggest changes we'll see over the next 20 years?

davidzet96 karma

Food chain disruption. Groundwater exhaustion. Dead ecosystems.

These will be black and white WTF situations in many places.

davidzet15 karma

In answer to Qs below:

  • G/W will make things worse.
  • population def pressing on resources, but environment much more (tragedy of commons)
  • energy has allowed us to move to places without water (Riyadh is extreme)

davidzet9 karma

In answer to Qs below: * Global warming will make things worse. * population def pressing on resources, but environment much more (tragedy of commons) * energy has allowed us to move to places without water (Riyadh is extreme)

levian_durai31 karma

Is there any realistic way or filtering saltwater for drinking purposes? At what point would it become worthwhile to do it despite the cost?

davidzet55 karma

Sure. It's desalination, which people have done for centuries. The cost has fallen as techniques have shifted from heat to physical filters, but it's still the most expensive way to get drinking water. Cost is about $1/m3 (not including cost of getting it to your tap), but the energy (and environmental) costs can be larger. It will become worthwhile when benefits are large enough (e.g,. start with submarines, go to cruise ships, then islands, etc.). Some countries do desal for agricultural irrigation.

rudeboyskunk12 karma

Which areas of the workd should start heavily investing in desal now as a hedge against future problems?

hotrock324 karma

Most middle eastern countries have dozens of desal plants. I live in Abu Dhabi and desal plants are our only source of fresh water for any use. There are 200+ around the gulf which in combination with the lack if a full tidal flush, hot summers, and only one fresh water source into the gulf we end up with sea water that is twice as salty as the Indian Ocean.

Source: I work closely with the UAE environmental agency to help educate school children on the local coastline environment and how we are changing it.

davidzet4 karma

Don't forget the groundwater!

I am coming to UAE in Dec. PM me if you want to have coffee :)

davidzet4 karma

Raise prices (above cost of delivery) FIRST, to reduce demand (lawns). Desal is last step

PatShoney29 karma

In your opinion, will clean water scarcity lead to war? If so, how soon?

davidzet44 karma

I'm still leaning to no, mostly because it's cheaper to "make" water than fight a war and it's really easy to poison (the winner's) water. That said (as I discuss in Chp 9 of my book), there are plenty of leaders willing to sacrifice their army to get water for their friends. (Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan spring to mind, over the Aral Sea and irrigated cotton.)

seismicor19 karma

Hi. I'm curious. Which country has the largest supply of groundwater?

davidzet29 karma

FAO keeps data on water resources (http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4473e/y4473e08.htm). Aquastat (http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/data/query/index.html?lang=en) doesn't necessarily separate groundwater (because it DOES connect to surface water), but it's also VERY hard to know how much groundwater is there, in terms of quantity, quality or accessibility.

PeterMetz17 karma

How big a danger is fracking to our water supply?

Thanks for the free book!

davidzet4 karma

Decent. I'd worry more about mines and tailings ponds. Fracking doesn't usually pollute, since it's at a different depth. Risks are bigger from disposal of backflow and depleting rivers, which I've seen in Alberta.

(Enjoy the book!)

sharrison61415 karma

I know there's issues with wasting freshwater and all that jazz, but in the states, even with our constant use and wasting of freshwater, will there be an issue for us in the future? I know there are areas in the states that have droughts all the time, but the "wetter" regions. Where I live, wastewater and street is cycled back into the river and then treated for home use. So to me, there seems to be no issue, but is there something I'm not seeing?

davidzet21 karma

You may be right. Issues to consider: falling quality (birth control gets past drinking water filters, etc.), lack of $ for system repairs, HUGE impacts from climate change (floods, drought). Nobody thought Atlanta (or London) would suffer shortage...

hoodyupload15 karma

Why is coca cola cheaper than water in USA?

davidzet51 karma

Price discrimination: Anyone foolish enough to mistrust tap water will pay a lot for bottled water.

(Or marketing, rebates, etc.)

kungfoojesus13 karma

Is there a situation where water shortage will benefit specific companies in terms of profit? What companies stand to benefit? Both in terms of selling new technology and profiteering on the water scarcity.

davidzet24 karma

Yes, bottled water companies can sell water when city supplies go (Katrina) or when the gov't is incompetent (India, et al.). I'm a big fan of competition (on quality) between utilities and bottled water companies, but both sides dislike those comparisons.

On scarcity, you will have companies selling good ideas (low flow showerheads) and crap (water from air), but "profiteering" isn't the word I'd use -- unless they put a hole in the pipe.

The best protection for consumers (citizens) is to make sure water managers are doing their job. Chp 6 in my book goes into this, big time.

jauntydzrtrider12 karma

How do you feel about the trash "islands" around the oceans?

What might you think would be a solution for this mess down the road?

davidzet28 karma

Very annoyed.

I want a deposit on plastic bottles, bags, etc. to pay for cleanup costs.

Cleaning the ocean is VERY expensive.

thegrizz5112 karma

Why aren't countries, particularly the US, pushing for water conservation measures such as gray water systems in homes? What will it take for these measures to be implemented?

I can't believe my toilet still flushes with fresh water!

davidzet15 karma

Short answer: dual (purple) pipe systems are VERY expensive (ripped up streets). It WOULD be nice to ease restrictions on in-home re-use, but the public safety people (yeah, I know) tend to freak out. I recall that California had 99.98% illegal systems (there were less than 10 legal) before they reformed the regs. So... go get a change in rules at your city council (or just run a pipe from the roof gutter to your toilet tank -- but careful about overflow!)

dchurch012 karma

How long do you think it will be before the Ogallala Aquifer is completely depleted?

Also, what are your thoughts on farmers growing corn in regions like the Nebraska Panhandle, where without irrigation, it wouldn't be possible, yet growing things like dry beans and sugar beets fairs just fine in the natural climate?

davidzet8 karma

It's being "managed for depletion" but going faster than expected. The driver of corn there is partially subsidies. End those and some farmers would switch to dry farming

Autonomous_Flux9 karma

Do you think that solar powered water evaporation and other techniques to get water will play a prevalent role in the future?

What do you think about moisture farming on Tatooine?

davidzet15 karma

Nope. Far too energy intensive (vs. rain collection).

Id' rather live in Portland than Tatooine. Even people in the Sahara live in oases. That said, the Saudis (et al.) use massive energy to live in the desert. Totally risky/unsustainable.

notalwayscapslock9 karma

In countries where you have been, can you tell an experience on how communities deal with water shortage that is inspiring, and which news solutions for water shortage you get excited about to see spread around the world?

davidzet16 karma

Good question. Plenty of countries (communities) have lived with scarcity for centuries, mostly by sharing the burden and conserving their resources (7 years of fat, 7 of famine). I'm impressed by Singapore's technocratic devotion to managing their water. Much of the Middle East used to conserve resources (qanats in Iran, etc.), but many have gone for over-exploitation using cheap energy. I think the Australians have also done a good job with urban changes in habits and ag markets for water, as means of coping. They were against the wall (10 year drought) and changed. yes, they spent a lot on desalination plants, but mostly decent responses.

Solutions: markets for ag water (C5 in my book) and higher prices for urban water (Israel, Singapore, et al.)

leftcockroach8 karma

Will the Keystone Pipeline potentially spoil the groundwater?

davidzet13 karma

Nope. Easy to monitor spills. Easy to fine them $$$ for spills.

Read this

rchen238 karma

If we are new to the subject, but want to donate time or money in the future, what water issues and developments are the most promising and realistic to solve in the near future?

davidzet12 karma

Time: get to know your local water managers.

Money: I'm not a fan of charitable water projects, but there are some that put a LOT of effort into helping communities get a supply AND maintain it. Read up. Be skeptical.

Promising: Utilities need to open to customers. They also need to work on demand (customer service) instead of supply (more dams).

Read my book (108 pages) and then consider how Uber disrupted taxis. Do THAT for water...

CrazyCapitalist8 karma

Hey David, any thoughts on the Georgia/Florida water wars?

davidzet15 karma

"Get your house in order"

Both states have terrible water management. Now they are fighting to take other water instead of improving management. If I was in DC, I'd cut off both until they get their act together. I'd also reserve water for the ACT, which benefits MANY people and plays a more important role than lawns.

randomrealitycheck8 karma

Where did the water go?

I understand that mankind has polluted water and made is undrinkable but the water isn't destroyed. Polluted water along with salt water can be distilled so it isn't like it has been removed from our continued use.

I also understand that water isn't necessarily in the most convenient place for where we have chosen to live but we build trans-border oil and gas pipelines, why don't we do the same for water?

Thanks for doing this AMA, I missed the last one.

davidzet26 karma

ITT, I've said that it's expensive to MOVE water. It's also expensive (energy, capital) to treat it. LOTS of g/w is being mined and then ends up in the ocean. Reversing that process is $$$.

We're going to pay more to get less.

lilkhobs8 karma

How does one get into studying the economy of water?

davidzet47 karma

  1. Read my book.
  2. If still interested, then find a water issue that interests you.
  3. Study that (or work in the area).
  4. ???
  5. AMA!

214b7 karma

  1. Where are the most successful markets for water rights?

  2. Have you personally invested money in any water company? If you don't mind me asking, which ones?

  3. Why can't water be piped from areas where there is plenty (such as the great lakes) to areas where there is little (such as Las Vegas, Nevada)? We already have long pipelines for crude oil, why water water?

davidzet23 karma

Happy cake day!

  1. Chile, Australia, Colorado Big Thompson. The best markets allow water and prices to move among many parties, according to changing conditions. These markets have detractors, but they are often worried about non-market water (environmental flows -- see Chp 10 in my book)
  2. Nope. Most companies supply tech. I worry MUCH more about government affecting water flows (and company profits)
  3. Pipelines are expensive to build AND operate. One bbl oil is worth $80. On bbl water is worth $0.16. Then you have to fight the "surplus" region to take their water. There's no case of zero impacts.

Dorothy_cox6 karma

I recently watched last call at the oasis. What do you think of the vegas water supply and the depletion of the Hoover dam?

davidzet12 karma

Vegas has made a one-way bet on growth attracting water. Their best hope is markets that allow them to buy water from other basin users. They are irresponsible for selling water so cheap.

Read this and this

altern8tif6 karma

What are the cutting-edge technologies that will influence the way we approach water conservation/consumption in the next 10 years?

davidzet14 karma

Desalination is always getting better but it's no silver bullet.

My bet's on handheld quality testers. I'd pay $100 to plug one into my smart phone and test water in my glass. $Billion.

On the policy side, it's going to be a move to scarcity-based pricing. We cannot continue to price water at cost of delivery (i.e., water is free). Check my book for more ideas...

hansjens476 karma

What's the best charity to support for giving people drinking water?

davidzet10 karma

Look for one that builds local projects that locals want and locals run

More thoughts

NinjaTyger5 karma

Can you comment on the impact of the privatization of water? The movie, "Tambien la Lluvia," did a great job illustrating the water war in Bolivia.

davidzet14 karma

The real problem is NOT privatization but poor regulation.

This post discusses the public-private-public failure in Cochabamba

maicel344 karma

Will the Netherlands drown?

davidzet4 karma

Yes, if they stop paying attention

TitsAlmighty4 karma

Should I start hoarding water and if so when can I expect to get rich from it?

davidzet12 karma

Hahaha... Not unless you have an alpine reservoir. It's REALLY expensive to store, but "water banks" do make good money saving winter water for summer irrigation.

Watch out: government may seize it "in the public interest"

drewhumphrey13 karma

Hey! I'm a student at Georgia Tech and am just getting started on a project related to conserving resources in agriculture, particularly water. Could you provide some insight into this issue? I don't like being vague, but I would just like to know what you think about it.

davidzet8 karma

Farmers will use less water when it costs more, i.e., extraction charges OR option to sell to other farmers or cities. Farmers are VERY smart, and they will often take conservation $ and use it to spread same water on more crops.

Read Chp 5, on water markets, ag, etc.

mattb103 karma

is there any way that clean water could be accessible for everyone in the world?

davidzet8 karma

Tough question. There are many examples of people suffering due to corruption, poor management, lack of property rights, etc.

Incentives matter: Compare clean water to mobile phones

Diet_Coke3 karma

Where do you think the first water wars will be?

davidzet4 karma

Read Chp 9 in my book. They are slow-motion and right now.

JaunManuelFangio3 karma

Serious water issues in the southwest seem certain. Yet much of the pain seems avoidable if we were to change out water use economics.

How do you see water use laws or economics changing in the southwest?

davidzet2 karma

Prices will rise, one way or another. The painful path imposes huge costs (Vegas's $700 million worthless straw). The better path uses prices to "help" adjustment. (Read my book.)

LosWasabi3 karma

What are the long term ramifications of the Fukushima incident to the groundwater in the area?

davidzet4 karma

I don't know, but I'd guess that radiation is going to be troublesome. No idea of the halflife...

Volcom2012 karma

Hi, and welcome to Reddit! I have two questions. Is there currently any type of device that you can attach to your kitchen water spigot that would test for any impurities? And which area in the United States has the cleanest drinking water?

davidzet4 karma

I don't think there is any "real time" sensor for kitchens, although some companies make sensors for networks ($$) that can detect some contaminants.

Cleanest drinking water? Places that use snow melt. The dirtiest water is surface (rivers), but groundwater can be clean or filthy (think abandoned factories). Treatment makes a HUGE difference between raw and drinking water.

Bakkie2 karma

Now that wind turbines are generally available for a relatively inexpensive source of electricity, has the economics of desalination changed for ocean coastal areas?

How do the numbers work out financially and as compared to social/political need for water?

davidzet5 karma

Turbines are still REALLY expensive compared to solar and all else.

Desal costs are still high (filters, building, permits), esp. in the US.

"Need" needs to consider subsidies, i.e., people paying less than cost of desal. It would be cheaper to raise prices and have people use less. See pp14-15 in my book.

OhhCarolina1 karma

Do you mind drinking tap water, or do you strictly drink bottled water? Which is the healthiest type of water to drink?

davidzet3 karma

I live in Amsterdam which -- like the rest of NL -- has excellent water. I drink bottled water in countries where utilities are incompetent.

PM_ME_Y0UR_NUDES__1 karma

Hello! I read somewhere we waste some m3 of water every time we take a shower so my question is: does it exist a shower that can recycle the water?

davidzet1 karma

Yes, there are some that are expensive (real time filters), but I wouldn't worry. Most shower water is treated and reused in some way.

Or shower in the garden :)