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Water 2012: Colorado focuses on the Value of Water

Posted: Wednesday, Dec 26th, 2012

This is the 52nd article in a weekly series celebrating Colorado Water 2012.

VALLEY — The “Water 2012” awareness campaign for the Rio Grande Basin is winding down. What started as a celebration of Colorado’s historic water moments will now be transitioning in into a statewide “Value of Water” movement. This proactive crusade will continue on several fronts across all of the river basins in the state with a single goal of getting water on every body’s mind.

Water it is such a simple topic. It is wet stuff that we drink, bathe in, wash our clothes in, grow and prepare food in. It’s used for making stuff; animals use it and plants use it. The point is - it really gets used. That tends to be a problem, especially since there are getting to be so many people that have so many uses for a once plentiful resource. Water education was once a topic left to children as part of their school studies, but since there are now seven billion of us here on the planet, five million in Colorado, our water footprint (demand) or our “splash” is exceeding the supply that we have readily available.

The value of water means different things to everyone. On the most personal level, it is getting a drink of safe water whenever need to quench thirst. It is coveted in household use for food, hygiene and the basic needs. There are also the agricultural needs to grow and process food. Without these needs met then there is loss of jobs, higher food costs and less food security. Most modern manufacturing requires some form of water use, real economic drivers in times like that are the loss of jobs. Finally, there is the environmental need - streams, rivers and lakes require a given amount of water for the survival of aquatic species. That water in turn is key for the economies that survive on those streams, rivers and lakes.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that serves as neutral informational forum to developed and developing countries. Their task is to provide informational resources to all countries so they can improve and enhance their forestry, agriculture and fisheries practices to ensure good nutrition, food security and sound water resources. In 2010, a report to FAO Ecosystem Economics (The Economic Value of Water for Agricultural, Domestic and Industrial Uses) noted the value of water was difficult to define. This fact applies to all water uses, including those only indirectly or slightly related to economic activity. For example, water supports habitat for fish that are ultimately harvested for food or commercial use. Economists have to use a variety of valuation tools to describe the market value of water and rarely are they able to account for current weather/ environmental conditions that play long term and for effects on the current economy. These key factors are long term drought and the ongoing effects of climate change.

The principal economic valuation methods that drive the water values are the same factors that drive the real estate market willing buyers and sellers. As economic hardship increases so do these sales and sales are increasing. The danger is who are the buyers? The report noted some key concerns, “As with all active markets, those associated with the sale of water are at times susceptible to various market distortions and failures that may lead to inefficient allocation through trade. In these cases of failure, unfettered market prices are not expected to lead to an optimal distribution of resources to their highest social use. There are many causes of these market failures, including but not limited to externalization of certain costs and benefits, information failure (i.e., lack or unequal distribution of information), low income level undermining ability to pay, high transaction costs and subsidy distorting incentives. Subsidies and other distortions can also alter prices from those that would be expected in an efficient market. More specifically, artificial inflation of prices owing to speculative demand for water has been a primary.”

Currently tap water in the United States costs between one and three cents per gallon, the average cost for irrigation water between six and ten cents per cubic meter, while industrial water six cents per cubic meter. When we compare those costs to world markets we see some stark contrasts tap costs range from eight cents to $1.90 per gallon, irrigation between six cents and 2.88 per cubic meter and industrial between six cents and $6.94 per cubic meter.

These values are economic in nature and fail to address the other value that we in Colorado have come to expect and enjoy the high quality of the water supply, both in drinking supply and in natural waters; the pride of locally grown agriculture, the beauty of forests, wildlife and riparian areas, sports fishing, snowboarding, rafting, hunting, jeeping, atving, camping and hiking. This is also the true value of water. When Colorado’s water is kept on the land and in the hands of Coloradan’s, the value of water is maintained and Colorado’s water gap is lessened. Join the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable in 2013 when the” Narrow the Gap” campaign begins for Colorado’s water future.


Judy Lopez is a Rio Grande Basin Roundtable Member, PEPO Liason to the IBCC of the RGBRT

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