19:15 UTC Ok folks, I am outta here.

If you just showed up, you can learn a lot from the questions -- and hopefully my replies :)

If you want to think more about water or the commons, then see my books (free to download) below. If you're REALLY into my random curiosities, then check out my Jive Talking podcast or my newsletter (if you can find it!)

I don't make any money from this stuff. I've got a salary as a professor :)

Hi Reddit!

I have done seven (!) AMAs over the years, usually triggered by a surge of stories related to water problems. Here's my last one from Sep 2021.

This year has seen floods in Pakistan, dirty tap water in Jacksonville, record droughts in Europe, the (ongoing) mega-drought in the Western US, and more...

I started blogging on water in 2007, and have written two books on the political economy of water. My 2014 Living with Water Scarcity is free to download from here.

Why "political economy"? Because political water should be shared as a common good* (e.g., water in the environment) while economic water should be managed with prices (drinking water) and markets (irrigation water). Water can pass between political (or social) and economic uses, which complicates everything.

  • I published The Little Book of the Commons in 2022. I wrote it because water -- and many other elements of civilization -- exist in a commons ("everyone can use but nobody owns"). It's free to download from here.


Proof: Here's my proof!

Comments: 256 • Responses: 74  • Date: 

ElusiveBob73 karma

I read a lot of articles like “Best Cities to Retire in for Climate Change by 2050,” etc. searching around online you can find some cities that have “plans“ for climate change. And they have all these different maps of parts of the country that are going to get hotter, etc. do you think those studies and charts, etc. are accurate at all? Is it possible to predict something like that 30 years out?Do you have an opinion on the best place to move to avoid the worst of climate change?

Edit: typo

Oh_Archie47 karma

I have a friend that works at NASA for climate sciences.

The PNW is going to be the least affected in the U.S but will still have issues like forest fires.

The South is going to get drier and hotter, so even if they do get more rain it’ll evaporate faster.

Good information on the meridian line shift: https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2018/04/11/the-100th-meridian-where-the-great-plains-used-to-begin-now-moving-east/

There’s no full-proof place to move to, at this point it’s just mitigating disaster or choosing your disaster. There’s going to be climate change migration and wars to follow. States will be fighting for resources and water access.

davidzet34 karma

That makes sense. I'm not a scientist, but the problems with "surprises" (e.g., fires) can be quite significant. That's why I put a lot of emphasis on governance/community (my answers to this question), those elements make it easier to deal with surprises.

tteoma21 karma

Enlighten us, which cities are on the top of the list? :)

davidzet75 karma

I'm actually writing a paper on this topic ("Non-revenue water as a measure of drinking-water-utility performance"), but it's not online anywhere yet.

The main issue is data, since water utilities don't like to provide it.

So, ignoring that (and going big), I'd suggest overlaying maps (or data) from cities/countries that are (1) honest, (2) rich, and (3) pretty good at managing natural resources/environment.

The Nordics are obviously up there. Canada has advantages over the US. Some "sleepers" might be countries that are improving governance to protect their resources (e.g., Albania or Rwanda), but you get risk with that potential upside.

railwayed28 karma

I am a hydrologist in Ireland. Understandably we have an abundance of water, but it is not managed very well with issues of agricultural pollution (we have a lot of livestock too!) and insufficient treatment facilities. Potentially, water export could become a viable industry, but not until there is better management of the water.

p.s there are reasons for this poor management and there are plans in place to improve this, but it is going to take a lot of money and resources

davidzet11 karma

Yes, I have heard a lot about Ireland.

It is, I think, a legacy of poverty, "free water," and a push for agricultural production (butter!)

The Netherlands has similar problems, in terms of trying to get farmers to change. They resist because it's so costly.

The idea of "exporting water" is captured in "virtual water," and I just republished a podcast with the guy who invented the term (Tony Allen, RIP).

Correction. It's not up until 3 Oct, but here are some links:





TheGoblinPopper16 karma

The main issue is data, since water utilities don't like to provide it.

Geeze, flashbacks to my senior thesis in economics...

"And my findings are..... Inconclusive because the data I built my thesis around was not reported correctly by any state..."

davidzet12 karma

Yep. Data is really hard to get right.

LONG ago, I tried to set up a "water data hub" but it died due to lack of interest.

Too many indifferent monopolies.

TheGoblinPopper5 karma

Is there anything the average person can do to help get that data or provide data?

davidzet9 karma

Interesting question.

The first is to make sure your drinking water utility (most relevant "water data" source for most) is providing it, publicly.

Then get them to publish it in an API/XML format that will allow aggregation with other data. NB: There is NOT global water data standard, but check ib-net.org

transmogrified7 karma

This is interesting. Despite having a lot of resource wealth, Canada is actually pretty terrible at managing our resources. From what I’ve read we’ve been stuck in a resource trap since our inception. It’s only our vast resource wealth that’s kept us at a “developed” economy despite having very little value-add industries and mostly extracting raw resources to sell with very little refinement.

Is it just the “rich” part that’s working on our favour (the vast amount of water we have)? Or are we doing something else right? I’ve lost a lot of faith in how Canada manages its wealth

davidzet10 karma

You're right. Here's a good book by one of the best guys on water in Canada.

Canada has been more lucky than wise.

turdmachine5 karma

Canada has been colonized and exploited for its "limitless" resources from inception. The problem is that it was never limitless and we have always known better - capitalists have just never cared.

davidzet3 karma

The first part of your sentence makes sense, but it's not about "capitalists" (Check out "communist environmental degradation" and you'll see horrors.)

The problem is a "hey that's free, lemme use it up ASAP" colonial mentality. Lots of sad examples...

DieSchadenfreude6 karma

I live in the u.s. in Oregon. It has plentiful water and lots of woods and wildlife. I think lot of people see that and think oh it will be great after a climate shift. Which is mostly right, but they don't think about all the fires that will be fueled by all that undergrowth that is no longer getting enough water. It's going to take some time for growth to shift to less dense, and for what species do well to change. In that time there are going to be a lot of disasters, and a lot of destruction to deal with. So it's not all roses (yes that is a joke, Portland= the rose city).

davidzet8 karma

Good point.

The inverse (Dutch) version is that rising sea level is not going to wipe out the country but (more likely) super storms...

Lots of suspects for M. Poirot...

DieSchadenfreude2 karma

I wish you guys luck. The Dutch from everything I know/have learned are a pretty awesome people. If anyone could come up with a way to build their way out of climate change, you guys are right at the top of the list.

davidzet3 karma

I'm an American, but yeah, I'm hoping that they (we) do well :)

albundyhere2 karma

Geneva, Switzerland. went on vacation there many years ago. there were these water pumps that you could get your own water. I guess the water flows from the Alps. the taste and cleanness was phenomenal.

davidzet3 karma

"Clean water is the mark of civilization" -- Me.

(Also they way they handle those less powerful, etc., but it's a good slogan -- and r/hydrohomies friendly :)

davidzet13 karma

Good question. I live in Amsterdam, which is destined to be underwater in ±500 years. In the meanwhile, it's got better management of CC issue than, say, Las Vegas, which is never going to be under water, but is very mismanaged (=too much population with too cheap water)

So you need to look at the combination of nature and culture (or governance).

DreadPirateFlint4 karma

Not sure if you’re including this information, you probably know more than me but Las Vegas has been put forth as a model of water conservation https://www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/las-vegas-water-conservation-grass/#app

I only remember because I was so surprised

davidzet17 karma

Yeah, that drives me crazy:

From my book:

Consider the desert city of Las Vegas and perpetually wet Amsterdam. Las Vegas gets fresh water from a nearby reservoir. Amsterdam takes contaminated water from nearby wetlands. High cleaning costs and durable infrastructure explain why water in Amsterdam costs five times its price in Las Vegas. Customers cannot see those differences, but they can see low prices, which is why each Las Vegas resident uses as much water as five Amsterdammers. People in Vegas have lawns and pools in the desert because water is cheap, but they also fear shortages. Water managers in Las Vegas have not countered that threat by raising the price of water. Instead, they subsidize the cost of removing lawns.

Yes, that’s right. Water managers in Las Vegas sell water so cheaply that they pay people to not use it.

Nothing has changed since then, as their water price (=signal to conserve) is still ridiculously low compared to actual scarcity.


Honestly though, subsidizing the cost of removing lawns seems better to me. People need water to drink, bathe, and cook among other things. It doesn't make sense (to me at least) to drive up water prices for neccesary uses rather than disincentivising or prohibiting wasteful uses like that of lawns.

yacht_boy8 karma

You do tiered pricing. The first hundred gallons a day or so are very cheap. This doesn't punish people for basic cooking and bathing and washing. Then as you use more water the price escalates, so people who use a lot of water pay a lot more.


Do other countries do this? Also does tiered pricing apply differentially to differently sized households? Say I have a family of eight people living under one household (sounds like a lot but I know people who have had 4-5kids and grandparents living under one roof), they will obviously use more water than a couple or a single person. Will they wind up paying way more for water despite using it for their basic needs?

davidzet2 karma

Tiered pricing has MANY problems -- your "family of 8" example covers one (utilities don't know family size, so family of 8 gets hit with a big bill.

I wrote a paper on how to price water, check out section 3.


davidzet1 karma

Actually they don't (or didn't when I looked years ago -- the "steps" in the tiers are so low as to be useless)

My student wrote a good post on Vegas's water management

DepartmentofNothing57 karma

We've all heard about the potential for 'water wars' in places like Yemen or Ethiopia/Egypt, but of course it's just one factor in bilateral relations--what do the empirical studies say, where does water rank in terms of priorities versus, say, the economic relationship? Where in your opinion is most likely to be a relatively clear-cut water conflict?

For that matter, are there any notable water-sharing agreements that defuse what would otherwise be clear international tensions? What blueprints can we build upon as fresh water grows scarcer?

davidzet76 karma

Yes. This question comes up all the time (see chapter 9 in my book with that title -- it's free to download).

The main facts are that water wars rarely happen (not in either location you cited), but there's an academic disagreement over whether MORE or LESS water causes conflict ("more" b/c crops and food allow men to fight; "less" b/c people are trying to get scarce water)

The US-Canada 1909 treaty covers water. Even Israel, Jordan and Palestine cooperate on water!

bikesexually74 karma

Israel and Palestine do not 'cooperate' on water. Israel controls water access and takes 4/5's of the areas water for less than 2/3's the population. On top of that Palestinians must deal with water restrictions while no such impositions are put on Israelis. In fact the current water allocation for Palestinians, as dictated by Israel, is at70% of the recommended daily use.

davidzet5 karma

Yes, you're right on those examples, but not on the "bulk" example in my link.

Here are two podcasts from my archive on Israel and Palestine



(I'm often VERY angry about the way Israel screws Palestine, but it's not 100% -- thankfully!)

The_Bjorn_Identity40 karma

I live near the great lakes and therefore have a huge reservoir of fresh water along with plentiful rainfall. I do see low flow aerators in public restrooms, and my town is installing alleyways with permeable pavers so more rainfall ends up as groundwater rather than to sewer. But what more should we be doing? Are there long term concerns with our water? I often feel as though we will be the last ones with water in a worst case climate scenario.

davidzet88 karma

You're right.

Protecting water quality is very important. Lake Erie, IIRC, has serious issues with agricultural runoff and algal blooms. That's gotta stop.

Groundwater infiltration (those alleys) is really good.

I'd also ban outdoor irrigation of landscaping, so people would plant for the climate. (People also put WAY too much fertilizer and pesticides on lawns.)

Finally, I'd put more emphasis on restoring wetlands, forests, etc. They regulate the water cycle, cool the area and help biodiversity.

IonOtter33 karma

The pesticide thing is far worse than you realize.

People, farmers and lawn management services are using persistent herbicides.

Manure, especially horse and cow manure, should be considered radioactive.

Not even joking.

Even if the farmer claims that they don't use those herbicides, they might have had to buy fodder from a supplier who does, or got it from someone else who does. It only takes one mistake.

This stuff doesn't break down. It stays viable for up to five years, and it gets into the recycling stream with ridiculous ease. Municipal compost, for example, is dangerous for your garden, especially if you live in a large, wealthy area. All the grass clippings are added to the grinders, and all of it becomes deadly to anything but ornamentals and shrubs.

All of your broadleaf vegetables, such as beans, peas, cucurbits and others have no resistance, and die. Non-heirlooms have some resistance, and some varieties of commercial potatoes are better, but one single mistake with non-organic compost will end your gardening hobby for three to five years.

You can remove the contaminated soil, but usually by the time you notice the trouble, it'll take you a while to figure out what is causing it. Once you make the connection, it has been washed deeper into the garden, and you have to remove all your best soil.

If you have the space, you'll have to dig a whole new garden, and convert the old one to resistant crops for a few years.

davidzet37 karma

Sounds about right to me.

What's interesting, in terms of drinking water quality, is that they do NOT test for a bunch of contamination (=can detect) or pollution (=harmful), such as those you mention. They also do NOT test for interactions of contaminants.

Oh, and industry (farmers, chemical companies) lobbying... Fuck.

ilikecornalot3 karma

That class of herbicide is no longer used or intentionally sold for lawn use by/to homeowners and golf courses/lawn maintenance. As for farm use it is used mainly on corn and sugar beets. Very unlikely you would get grass from a railway right away or a pasture for your garden, but hey you never know. Also I can’t see a rancher picking up after cattle to sell manure. Also ranchers don’t usually spray native grasslands. I can’t definitely say “never”, however after some issues in the past this class of herbicides has restrictions added to the label to overcome its tainted past. I am not saying we can’t do better, as farmers we live in this environment as well and want to continue making a living from it.

davidzet2 karma

I agree that farmers who "live in the environment" are far more careful, but larger farms run ONLY as businesses can be more harmful, by taking short cuts that produce negative externalities.

(One of the biggest is the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi, which is 90% caused by ag runoff.)

So some people are trying, while others are not (or there's jsut not enough OVERALL effort).

iBrowseAtStarbucks27 karma

I'm a storm water engineer.

Permeable pavements are good, but there's always more to do. That whole family of improvements is called LID methods, low impact developments. To give you an example of some other stuff, segmenting pavements (lateral cut every so often in your pavement that looks suspiciously like an expansion joint), removing curbs and gutters, rooftop gardens, properly developed swales, the options are endless.

Permeable pavements are typically one of the more expensive changes you can make. If you're interested in how they're made, it's a regular asphalt mix that's compacted to around 10% air voids instead of the regular 3-7%. They have a much shorter usable life and tend to lose their water conveyance capabilities over time.

To give some numbers for effectiveness, regular pavement we usually say has around 99% runoff, meaning 99% of water hits pavement, then goes somewhere. The 1% remaining is called the initial abstraction. It's what we effectively lose to nature. Permeable pavements are around 85-90%, markedly better. Trees and grasses are anywhere from 10-30% though.

If your goal is to do more, that's where you start. Busting up concrete and asphalt is our best option to help, no way around it.

davidzet20 karma

Agreed. Trees and other greenery. Dense housing to limit sprawl into green areas. "Daylighting" rivers is also a very good step. There's too much (car-friendly) asphalt/concrete in cities.

PickledPokute5 karma

What about runoff of tiled roads? They are a lot more costly to build though. Maintaining it might be costlier and maintaining it doesn't consume materials.

iBrowseAtStarbucks6 karma

For the majority of things like this you can Google ___ material runoff coefficient, and find your answer, in case you're ever wondering where to find stuff like this.

Tiled roads are effectively the same as thing as a brick road. Cursory search says it's got a runoff coefficient of 0.7 to 0.85, meaning 70% to 85% of rain that hits becomes runoff. Definitely better than asphalt, but about the same as improved asphalt (different mix design, cuts, curb and butter improvements, the whole lot).

That's all fine and dandy for the most part, but city governments tend to look only at upfront costs for storm improvement projects, up to a certain point. If an asphalt road will get 20 years of usable life, a brick road 25, but costs 15% more, the city will go with the asphalt every time. 20 years, 50 years, and 25% more, you might start moving the needle.

It sucks, but we do things the way we do it because it's cheap, it's replicable, and it's available.

davidzet2 karma

This makes sense, but the Dutch (thankfully) consider other factors (#1 being maintenance, so lifting bricks rather than jackhammers.)

Those budgetary issues you mention are indeed common and they lead to bad long run outcomes :(

demosthenesss30 karma

Are you more worried about climate change related concerns or things such as aquifers being depleted, which in a lot of places would continue to happen even if the climate stopped changing tomorrow?

davidzet60 karma

I'm worried about both.

CC is making everything worse, in terms of putting water in the wrong places in the wrong quantities.

Aquifer depletion (an issue everywhere on the planet, except a handful) means that we have less of a "safety belt" for water supply when droughts last longer than expected (the new normal with CC)

Atomsteel23 karma

With all that is happening to our fresh water supply globally how hopeful do you feel for the future?

The largest freshwater lakes and rivers are drying up. Record drought in the American west. Unusual rainfall patterns influenced by temperature. It all seems so insurmountable. If our best answer is people coming together to do the right thing then I have very little hope.

Do you think it is possible to "out tech" this situation?

davidzet53 karma

I'm not hopeful, either.

But desperation can bring people together (e.g., Ukraine)

So maybe?

For me, the biggest "lurking fear" is a loss of groundwater storage, followed by a drought, followed by political blocks on trading food. That will be bad, for millions.

It could happen next year.

Atomsteel18 karma

Thanks for the honest answer.

I agree. The collapse of underground aquifers is very concerning. They took millions of years to form and once they are collapsed the water will not be stored in areas that it was historically found available.

Then there is deforestation and the loss of the freshwater "filters" that have kept the water clean and potable.

Then of course corporations and farms that are abusing the resource in the name of profit.

And then and then and then...

I also agree that many governments are going to stop exporting food products to feed their own population. Considering that many places exist today solely because food can be supplied to that area logistically we are about to see all sorts of climate change related migration that are going to further tax already strained ecosystems.

We are living through a Great Filter event.

How do people who can see what's happening convince the people that out right deny it? What can we do short of storming the bed chambers of politicians and CEOs and holding their feet to the fire? (This is not encouraging violence. It is a common turn of phrase.)

davidzet18 karma

I'm 100% with you.

Move to a community where that's NOT the case (why I moved to NL from US), and it will be a bit better.

Also, we're not gonna die "don't look up" style -- we're just gonna suffer deaths by a thousand cuts, which will piss off people like you and me who saw this coming :(

Relevant posts:



oz67022 karma

What can we do short of storming the bed chambers of politicians and CEOs and holding their feet to the fire?


(This is not encouraging violence. It is a common turn of phrase.)


IMO nothing short of actual revolution is going to loose their grip on power. People are just too stupid and complacent right now, and politicians and businesses spend big money to keep them that way. Things might have to actually collapse before we can even begin to build a better system.

davidzet2 karma


Unlikely-Zone2118 karma

How much of an impact would not diverting streams/lakes/rivers etc to cities with millions of people in them make in the overall decline of usable water and record low levels we are seeing? Thanks!

davidzet43 karma

Diverting MORE water from "streams/lakes/rivers" would increase ecosystem damage, perhaps to the point of collapse (=no return)

The "typical" best source of extra water is not these environmental sources, but recycled wastewater (sometimes called "toilet to tap" by opponents), since that water is convenient and the cleaning technology works. (It's like desalination, but cheaper.)

Unlikely-Zone215 karma

I haven't kept up with it much, but how is the tech for salt water conversion coming along? I know it was crazy cost prohibitive.

davidzet23 karma

It's been getting better, but it's going to take decades to beat the cost of natural water.

Away from the coast, the choices are brackish groundwater (sometimes), recycled wastewater or pumping water over long distances (stupid expensive).

Better to work with "Nature's water" -- way cheaper and cleaner.

demosthenesss13 karma

My pipe dream is someone figures out a way to do carbon sequestration in an energy efficient way with desalination :)

... a guy can dream right?

davidzet14 karma

Indeed -- the SciFi solution would turn CO2 into water. Plants turn CO2 into O2, but they are also good (sometimes) at absorbing water vapor...

Randouser55514 karma

What experience in the industry do you have other than blogger who wrote books?

davidzet13 karma

None, besides consulting*

I'm an academic. I've talked with lots of industry people, farmers, policy makers and activists. Most of them agree with what I've written. You can look here.

*From my CV:

Akzo-Nobel (water quality), California American Water (demand and metering in Monterey), Copenhagen Consensus Center (water in LDCs), Energy Points (water- energy), Energy Regulators Regional Association (water regulation training x2), Flexible Solutions International (adopting water saving technology), Foreign Service Institute (US Dept State, on water-allocation in Pakistan), Global Water Intelligence (global drinking water prices), International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (water and trade policy), ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability (water pricing for bureaucracy and users), Institute for the Future (x2, on global trends), JP Morgan (on water economics), KAPSARC (energy-water), L.E.K. Consulting (bulk water in Florida), Monitor Consulting (water in middle east), RMC Water and Envi- ronment (regional supply and demand), Scott River Water Trust (environmental and irrigation water), Surfrider Foundation (desalination vs conservation), UNDP (Water and Sanitation in Kazakhstan), US Army Corps of Engineers (environmental flows), Vivid Economics (water markets in UK), Waterlution (Water Innovation Lab), and World Bank (utility performance in Ukraine).

Lens2Learn10 karma

What is your greatest concern or fear regarding public water?

davidzet26 karma

Underinvestment leading to a system collapse (Jackson MI MS right now, but many many US cities... in terms of ongoing decay).

The problem is that many systems were built 60-120 years ago, but not well maintained since.

Lens2Learn10 karma

And the lag time to fix this is significant. Probably at least 10 years even for smaller municipalities.

davidzet19 karma

True. Most systems have 50-100 year life, so the replacement schedule can last decades.

Emergency repairs cannot go very fast, due to costs, conflicts (underground), staffing, etc. Nightmare.

AnythingTotal4 karma

FYI, the state abbreviation for Mississippi is MS. MI is the abbreviation for Michigan.

Common mistake, even for Americans, but I’m pointing it out it out just so people are aware.

davidzet4 karma

Shit. Fixed.

I usually have problems with (British) Columbia vs (country) Colombia ;)

komari_k10 karma

How much do individual actions at water conservation mater compared to industry? If I do laundry less often and take more efficient showers are my individual efforts helping with the collective of like minded people or does industry practice dwarf our efforts?

Ps. I have great tap water where I live, does boiling it offer any benefits or is it redundant?

davidzet14 karma

Individual actions don't matter EXCEPT for outdoor landscaping. Household water is cleaned (in richer countries) and returned to the environment. The main water users are farmers (80%), so they can/should be dialed back, if ecosystems (which have no "rights") are under stress.

You don't need to boil safe tap water. Just costs energy.

buckinguy9 karma

I am a retired Canadian water resources engineer with background in interjurisdictional water management. The Prairie provinces of Canada have a water sharing agreement based on percent of apportionable flow of a river (what the flow of a river would be without human influences). So essentially whether the river is at low or high flows both the upstream and downstream jurisdiction are entitled to 50% of the apportionable flow as calculated at the border crossing. What are your thoughts on percentage based flow agreements vs volumetric based flow agreements, particularly as climate change increases flow variability?

davidzet13 karma

Well, you're gazoomping me here with an example of Canadian excellence. That's exactly the system for variable flows. The next step (maybe made?) is to take ecosystem health into account, since functioning ecosystems are not just pretty but also VERY helpful for buffering weather (climate change).

gnex308 karma

Every city I've lived in I check the water quality report and they all always say everything is great, our levels are low. How much can we trust the water treatment people to accurately self-report?

davidzet13 karma

Don't trust. Verify :)

I wrote more here.

gaimangods8 karma

How often should we change water filters of the refrigerator?

What are some body signs to realize that water isn’t of the best quality? (E.g peeing too often)

What are some checks to do when you go into a new apartment related to water quality?

What website provides a good lead about the quality of water in a local area?

Thanks so much for what you are doing!

davidzet9 karma

  • Read the manual?
  • Vomiting or diarrhea if you're lucky (lead or arsenic poisoning takes years to show effects)
  • Ask neighbors, as lots of piping is shared. You can buy test kits online.
  • Your local water utility (they should provide data)

You're welcome :)

idoitoutdoors6 karma

If you happen to live in California there are several different sources for checking water quality. If you have a municipal water connection (you pay someone for your water), they are required to perform water quality tests periodically and release consumer confidence reports. Google “PDWW” and you can search for your system. It’s a fairly old site so I recommend using as few terms as possible (e.g., only search by county at first) so you don’t accidentally omit results by having incorrect search terms.

If you are on a well then you can look up nearby water quality using the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA; bit of a forced acronym) mapping tool: https://gamagroundwater.waterboards.ca.gov/gama/gamamap/public/

Other states/countries may have similar programs/tools as well.

davidzet4 karma


Also note that smaller systems have LOTS of problems with regular, broad testing (=expensive), so there have been scandals.

idoitoutdoors5 karma

Most definitely. For being absolutely necessary, the water sector is notoriously cheap (as I’m sure you are well aware of) which makes it difficult to regulate out providers that act in bad faith or customers/shareholder that refuse rate increases to properly maintain their infrastructure. CA now actively discourages the creation of new mutual water companies for precisely this reason, there are a lot of small entities with aging systems at risk of failure due to improper maintenance.

davidzet2 karma

Yes. I think there are over 500 (!) registered in California (more in this episode of my podcast), and 90% of them are very small.

Cheap worked for years, but not so well now.

The industry-wide failure to add water scarcity to prices (except indirectly, via supply augmentation) as well as maintain infrastructure is "penny wise, pound foolish" in terms of risk and loss (as they discovered in Flint).

BrizvegasGuy7 karma

I think I speak for a lot of us here when i ask..Who runs Bartertown?

davidzet10 karma


Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

I prefer Rango as a water movie, but back to your question.

Bartertown is clearly for trading. Those who provide security (to prevent theft) run the place, in exchange for a cut.

The price of water there is the price of supply and demand, and it looks to be higher, perhaps, than prostitution.

killercurvesahead2 karma

Come on, Waterworld deserves more love.

davidzet2 karma

Man, that movie was SO painful. Ouch, my eyes!

jncc6 karma


davidzet15 karma

30 years ago (me, from UCLA).... so now?

But people like the weather, have family, jobs, etc. so they stay.

TBH, SoCal will not have water problems as much as heat problems. SoCal can always buy out (or seize) water from farmers.

lostInTranslation5476 karma

How is the situation going to be for rapidly growing (and unsustainably at that) countries like India and how could we avoid mass suffering from flooding and water shortages?

davidzet7 karma

It's going to be bad.

Now the interesting thing is that they are used to poverty/suffering/crazy, so maybe they will be able to adapt better to problems. (I am not wishing these problems on them!)

Now turn to Americans. What wil happen if they cannot get a super-latte for $1.29? They may (can) freak the fuck out.

So expectations matter, and people will suffer in proportion to their disappointment.

MpVpRb6 karma

Other than open warfare, do you see any fair solution to the water problems of the southwest US?

My crystal balls see a lot of political skullduggery, bribes, threats and cheating of all sorts as the powerful fight to maintain their unfair allocations

davidzet18 karma

Sadly, that's a more realistic future than acting like adults. It's pretty crazy that Colorado R. allocations have not been switched from volume (acre-feet) to percentages.

I've been pissed off about this since 2008 :(

MrRabbit5 karma

Okay this question sounds hyperbolic, and hopefully it is.. but I'm also kinda serious.

At the pace we're damaging our natural water sources, what year would you guess the Water Wars will start?

In all seriousness, it's hard to imagine the effect that real water scarcity would have on the world economy and geopolitical landscape. And it seems like a real possibility in a generation or two (to the not-well-educated-on-the-topic me).

davidzet12 karma

It's a reasonable question. I already answered on water wars, so I will reply to "damaging natural resources," which is a massive issue.

The value of "ecosystem services" (stuff we get free from Nature) is about double world GDP. The "amount" of ecosystems is falling so the value per unit remaining is rising (=scarcity), but this trend is terrible, since we have no technological way of replacing all that's lost. Here's a good article on ecosystem services

In 1997, the global value of ecosystem services was estimated to average $46 trillion/yr in 2007 $US... the estimate for the total global ecosystem services in 2011 is $125 trillion/yr in 2007 $US. From this we estimated the loss of eco-services from 1997 to 2011 due to land use change at $4.3–20.2 trillion/yr, depending on which unit values are used. Source

We're getting poorer, in other words, b/c we need to spend more time staying cool, recovering from storms, etc.

IMO, we've peaked in our wealth/lifestyle, and we're now headed downwards. Yes, there's an iPhone 14, but that is pretty worthless when things are melting down.

I recently blogged on this

elmonoenano5 karma

There's been a few articles that hit the front page on reddit recently about beavers and their ability to make an environment more drought resistant. Do you think beavers have a part to play in mitigating drought in the intermountain west?

davidzet7 karma

Yep. They are evoloved for ecosystem "engineering" (in a good way)

EmbarrassedCup13154 karma

How screwed is Mexico City in terms of its water-security and availability?

Its such a great city, but wow the water problem makes me want to steer clear from any kind of move there

davidzet4 karma

Oh man. Where do I start?

City built on a lake bed with drainage problems and groundwater problems that are being fixed addressed by importing more water (harming ecosystems elsewhere) and not doing much about the piped network. Just messed up.

Roof water tanks seem to be helpful for people who can afford them

Besides that, I'd say "go" since drinking water will always be affordable (vs death)... just don't expect things to improve.

Sielunvihollinen0 karma

Y por eso deberías quedarte ahí en casa señorito. Además el pensamiento popular en la ciudad ya va en contra de más gentrificación por parte de ustedes..

davidzet1 karma

Y por eso deberías quedarte ahí en casa señorito. Además el pensamiento popular en la ciudad ya va en contra de más gentrification por parte de ustedes..

I used google translate b/c my Spanish is terrible:

And that's why you should stay there at home sir. In addition, popular thinking in the city is already against more gentrification on your part..

So, yeah. No problem. I'm just trying to be pragmatic for someone's question.

As far as gringos making the problem worse/better, I'd say that you need to consider their money and (outsider) ideas of "decent life" as useful (the same as when Mexicans work in the US and see the good and bad of both countries). On the bad side, they are idiots in terms of local politics, so they need local help. Is there such a group in DF? It could reduce your concern.

grillcheesehamm3 karma

I live in a coastal city in the middle region of Vietnam.

How bad is it in the future? When is the best time for me to go to the higher grounds? And are we still able to buy beverages by then?

davidzet10 karma

Not Hoi An, I hope, since I'd be super jealous!

Maybe I've not visited your city, but VN was beautiful when I was there (1998);. That said, some of your fellow citizens were very mean to us gringos!

Now to your Q. As I've said elsewhere in this AMA, you should focus on living in a good community, with neighbors who are friends. Helping each other is more important than elevation or distance from sea.

There will always be beverages!

ReasonablyBadass3 karma

I've been telling people we can deal with draughts by catching more rainwater by digging swales, those little indentions meant to let rainwater seep into the ground. Is this correct? Is that really enough?

davidzet3 karma

Those are great for groundwater recharge AND reducing floods, but they may not be enough, especially as climate chaos pushes extremes.

fernshade3 karma

I am from the US Northeast, and all my family is thereabouts, but I live in Utah with my own small family because this is where my dream job is. As in...I have a job I really love with colleagues I love to work with, and I'm fairly certain I will not have anywhere near this opportunity anywhere else (I've been looking)...

Because of drought and climate change however, I feel an urgency to leave, and move my family back east. But then I think...will it be any better there, in the long run?

I guess my question is...will it be any better there, in the long run? If you were in my position, exactly how dead-set would you be on leaving this drought land, and with what urgency...and would returning to the Northeast be any kind of solution, in your view? Or would it take a more extreme move?

davidzet3 karma

Big Q. You have money so you won't have food or drinking water insecurity.

You're gonna see different climates, and maybe different "cost of staying alive" so that could matter.

If people around you are also "this is fine" then maybe you want to go somewhere sane.

RetardOnARocket3 karma

I've been looking for water table predictions for the St. Lawrence river, just north of Lake Ontario. Would you happen to know of any?

Also, where are you looking to buy land to ensure you and your family have clean drinking water post the next 50 years?

davidzet3 karma

No idea.

I'd say somewhere above agricultural drainage. You're gonna have to accept whatever arrives in the rain. :-\

Busterlimes2 karma

When do you think everyone outwest is going to come flocking to the great lakes region?

davidzet2 karma


decentlyconfused2 karma

  • When you drink water, do you drink it out of the tap or through a filter?

  • Also what are your thoughts on microplastics in water and what the average consumer can do about limiting our consumption of them?

davidzet2 karma

So, a good followup to "boil" question above. I actually have a RO filter in my Amsterdam kitchen. The water is pretty good here (there's some controversy over PFAS), but my filter reduces TDS from 300 to 40. That's good for my coffee machine.

There's no problem if I "accidentally" drink tap water :)

I don't know about microplastics, except that anything except "water" is not good to drink.

decentlyconfused2 karma

Microplastics in water: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01143-3

If a reverse osmosis filter is generally good for most applications that works for me

davidzet1 karma

RO works for physical size. So that should help but check how "micro" micro is vs filter holes!

Bananawamajama2 karma

Is desertification that's happening all over the world caused by depleting groundwater, or is it primarily happening for other reasons?

If it IS because of groundwater depletion, is there any way to actively restore aquifers, other than just reducing consumption and waiting for it to refill naturally?

davidzet1 karma

So you're right about the importance of aquifers, but they are only part (I'd guess 10%) of desertification (directly; indirectly, it's obvious that deserts have less g/w than swamps!)

But I think desertification is caused more by climate and vegetation (mix, density).

any real expert please step in!

RunRevolutionary90192 karma

What do you think of the book The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi?

davidzet2 karma

RunRevolutionary90193 karma

Heck ya!! I’m a tad bit obsessed with it.

davidzet2 karma

So, try The Ministry of the Future (clifi) or The Appeal -- I've only reviewed THREE fiction books. Wow.

Sweaty-Data-402 karma

Could you please elaborate about companies owning “water rights” in an area? Thoughts on Nestlé’s practices in impoverished regions?

davidzet8 karma

My view is not popular, but people LOVE to bash Nestle (even as they buy many many Nestle products).

Let me try to break it down (you may want to read chapter 1 of my free-to-download book):

  1. Governments control water rights.
  2. Those rights can be allocated in political and/or economic ways.
  3. Imbalances can harm some groups and help others (this is often the case with too much water for irrigation and too little for ecosystems)
  4. Corporations sometimes own water rights, but they prefer to buy the products made by water. For bottled water (e.g., Nestle and other "spring water" bottlers), direct ownership of rights is possible.
  5. Overallocation of rights (see 1 & 2) can lead to problems. Corporations don't want problems, and international corps (Nestle) are far more careful than local ones (e.g., name-you've-never-heard-of overpumping groundwater).

So, I think Nestle is not nearly as responsible for these issues as incompetent or corrupt governments.

But Nestle can also disappoint.

messyredemptions1 karma

What could happen if we indexed the value of currencies locally (in the US it's legal for regional/local currencies to exist) to things like water and environmental quality, climate progress, infrastructure, and educational attainment etc. (Basically adapted a Sustainability indicator/Global Happinesses index but for local/bioregional priorities as the scorecard for currency) in addition to something like the US Federal standard?

I recall seeing some notes about how communities with local currencies in the Great Depression fared better for economic reslience but don't hear much about modernizing things so that the currency is semi-generative on a systemic level beyond something like Bitcoin where data mining is rewarded but without consideration for the environment.

So indexing the quality and value of the public commons ideally creates an incentive for taking better care of the commons, and we know there are folks like Robert Costanza and his team who are already crunching numbers on the value of ecosystem services.

So having like wildlife numbers of keystone species for biomonitoring and water/soil/air quality reported and accounted for regularly as part of a region's economic health could be helpful and updated sort of like how companies report their quarterly/annual earnings (albeit ecosystem timelines often operate by the decades etc.).

davidzet2 karma

Interesting idea. Hard to implement.

IIRC, local currencies did better in the depression b/c "money supply" wasn't curtailed (as the Fed admitted 70 years later)

Most currencies do, rather indirectly, reflect governance quality (e.g., Swiss vs Egypt), so it's already a little like that.

damunzie1 karma

Are we going to reach a point in the Western U.S. where the government is going to have to use eminent domain to reclaim water resources?

davidzet4 karma

Oooh. Interesting.

It wold make sense. The Australians did that with the Murray-Darling rights, when they redefined them as "licenses" that could get reduced by a % in a low water year.

In the end, the volumes need to match reality, now a piece of paper.


In the state's major river basins, water rights account for up to 1000% of natural surface water supplies, with the greatest degree of appropriation observed in tributaries to the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and in coastal streams in southern California

making_headlines1 karma

Which would be a greater feat? Routing a water way across the country to allow the west to tap into powerful fresh water sources like the Mississippi River or building up Desalination Plants along the west coast to provide water?

davidzet16 karma

Wow. Two bad ideas. Which would be more impressive? Probably building a pipeline to lift water over the Rockies. Which would cost more? Hard to say. In my 2011 book, I did some calculations (p 175):

As a thought experiment, let’s consider the cost of sourcing all the water used in California from desalination. That solution would allow all the state’s precipitation to run down the rivers and streams, rebuilding and nourishing ecosystems that have suffered from the impact of 38 million people. Take out the back of an envelope and write down these numbers.

Californians now demand 49,000 GL of water (40 million acre feet). The conventional wisdom is that it costs about $1 to desalinate a cubic meter of water, so the annual cost of producing that much water would be $1,300 for every man, woman and child in the state, or $3.50 per day (on top of the current cost of delivery, which does not include water costs). The 640 desalination plants supplying that water would cost about $500 billion, or $13,000 per Californian.

But these numbers hide an obvious fact: farmers use 80 percent of California’s water.

Both of these ideas are terrible, IMO, due to the massive cost in cash, damage to ecosystems and lack of useful impact. More supply doesn't fix a demand problem -- as anyone who's experienced a freeway widening would tell you.

Dynamo_Ham1 karma

What states/countries/companies are leading the way in DPR right now?

davidzet2 karma

What's DPR?

Dynamo_Ham2 karma

Sorry, Direct Potable Reuse, I think. I saw one of your answers below that discussed how important recycling will be in dealing with our growing water shortage crisis. Hence the question - who is leading the way (if anyone) in developing potential solutions in this area?

davidzet4 karma

Ah. Yes, I figured but didn't want to "run in the wrong direction."

DPR is just a question of turning off a few valves in an In-Direct PR system. The health consequences are nearly zero (assuming IDPR is up to standard) compared to the marketing challenge. I think that we will see more DPR as people get used to the reality. (Long ago, I read that San Diego's drinking water comes from a source -- the Colorado -- that's passed thru an average of 6 toilets. People don't complain about what they don't know.)

Curiously, I think that Los Angeles is working in that direction as LADWP loses access to imported souces. DPR is def. the future.

Egg_Chen1 karma

Is Colorado going to dry up and become unlivable? In the near future?

davidzet10 karma

It's under crazy stress, with less inflows, terrible ecosystem damage, and unsustainable withdrawals.

Have you seen the Jordan River? It's an overmanaged joke (See Fig 4 in this paper), and the Colorado is going that way. Vegas's "third straw" was built so they can suck out the last water from the dead pool.

Nobody wants to pull back while others are sucking out. It's a tragedy of the commons (or prisoner's dilemma), and politicians are totally failing. Makes me mad.

ResidualBiscuit1 karma

How fucked are we?

davidzet5 karma

In 2009, James Lovelock ("Creator" of the Gaia hypothesis) estimated that the Earth could carry 1 billion people (so 6.75 billion less than now). He walked that back a bit, but more or less settled on "yes humans, but not many and not happy" -- I agree with this.

But my favorite "expert" on this question is George Carlin

Santeno1 karma

Why is large scale waste water recycling and reuse for drinking not a more widely used option?

davidzet2 karma

"yuck" factor.

We drink "old pee" (that's been cleaned) all the time. People don't want to be reminded of it.

AD_Skinner_no_shirt1 karma

Ajax fan?

davidzet2 karma

Sadly, no.

But I do like watching. I just don't care who wins. ¯\(ツ)

lazostat1 karma

Why nobody suggest veganism as a possible solution? Do you afraid that people will get angry?

davidzet2 karma

It's ok, from bottom up but not top down.

Higher meat prices (via correct pricing of water and externalities) would lead to less meat consumption.

So, policies need to change, to reflect the harms of animal-industry.

Popcorn531 karma

Okay, here is an actual question, raised by a guy on a podcast.
What about collecting river water that is pouring into the ocean, (befoe it is at the area where it is brackish), and piping it to say, Lake Mead or where there is drought, and filling the reservoirs?

I can't foresee too much environmental bitching for piping water.

davidzet3 karma

I blogged on this 13 year ago!

Short answer: There are STILL ecosystem impacts offshore but (far more important), it's crazy expensive (capex, opex) to pipe water over the Rockies. It would be cheaper to collect water via dehumidifiers (and that's a crazy-expensive "water source")

anonymonsterss1 karma

Whatsup with the Amsterdam flag?

davidzet2 karma

I live in A'dam.

The XXX? Lots of stories, but it's NOT porn :)

Rhythmic881 karma

What kind of water filter system would you use for an apartment that can’t modify the sink?

davidzet2 karma

I've discussed RO filters ITT. Search?

37Schmeckles1 karma

Thoughts on when the Ganges is likely to dry up (last meta study i looked at was ~40 years away) and downstream impact on Indias general water + security situation. Is there anyway this can be replaced as a eater source in this time? What do you think happens to the hundreds of millions of people that rely on it assuming no alternate solution can be stood up in time?

davidzet2 karma

I've not seen those studies, but def. possible (glaciers melting, etc)

It's not going to go well.

The chaos in monsoons (e.g., Pakistan floods) is already not going well.

calihzleyes1 karma

How much do you think water contaminated with PFAS/PFAS/Chromium 6 and/or Trichloropropane (TCP) contributes to cancer and what can be done to prevent it?

davidzet4 karma

Ahh... good question.

I'm not a scientist, but the PFAS thing is getting scary, in the Children of Men (end of fertility) way of looking at it.

In terms of cancer, I think those chemicals are still far behind PM2.5, cigarettes, etc., but they are NOT helping.