Moral Stewardship of Our Most Precious Resource: Water
CASCADING CHALLENGES IN THE THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS 14 (Gerard Magill & James Benedicts eds., 2019)
19 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2018 Last revised: 25 Jun 2019
Date Written: February 28, 2019
This essay first offers an overview of global water problems, then focuses on the situation in the United States. Climate change, deteriorating water infrastructure and increasing demands for water pose major challenges to water providers.
Water is central to life itself and we should be moral stewards of our most important resource. Using Pope Francis’s 2016 encyclical, Laudato Si’, as a point of departure, this essay examines cultural uses of water that, at one end, deeply embrace sustainability as a guiding principle and, at the other end, appear narcissistic. Ignoring reality is a time-honored human frailty.
We need resolve to tackle imminent water shortages. This essay offers a toolkit of policy options for helping us do so. One critical tool is to use price signals to encourage water conservation. Some have argued that water should be free, as a human right. I too advocate for water as a human right. But precisely because it is a finite resource, we need to discourage wasting water. The use of increasing block rates for water would protect basic access for persons of modest means while it would discourage profligate use of water for discretionary purposes.
Finally, we have entered the era of water reallocation. The use of market forces gives us previously unused solutions, such as dry-year lease options, sales of water rights, water exchanges, and forbearance agreements. The toolkit equips us to address the water crisis. Now what we need is the political will and moral courage to act.
Keywords: water crisis, global water, climate change, water infrastructure, Laudato Si', sustainability, price signals, water as human right, water reallocation
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