Recently Jay Famiglietti wrote and article for the Huffpost on what he dubs the “Blue Economy” and the role of modern business in that economy. For me this immediately calls to mind two ongoing debates in the world of water resource management: hydraulic fracturing and drought. I agree with Dr. Famiglietti on the scale of the problem, the immediacy and that there needs to be a more active part played by private industry. But I believe the water-as-a-commodity approach is not by definition a road to success.
Developing national markets for water would undoubtedly catalyze investment and valuation of water, but doing so is not equivalent to encouraging conservation. T Boone Pickens’ excursion into privatizing and marketing groundwater resources in Texas is a superb example of the legal tanglewood and resource-management myopia that could characterize a private water market if we are not careful. After all, private industry already holds sizeable influence over water resource development – think back to irrigation development in the era of big dams. And while the private industry should absolutely play a larger part in water resource development, there need to be checks established. Not necessarily regulation, but at the very least sufficient information – a cause Dr. Famiglietti has often championed.
Hydraulic fracturing and the ongoing drought gripping much of the Western United States could be the poster child for the difficulty of establishing an industrial valuation on a resource that is unequivocally essential to everyday life. While the blending of water-as-a-right and water-as-a-commodity is undeniably a tricky business, the issue often fails to develop to that stage. Uncertainty inevitably complicates the matter. Uncertainty about future water demand, about how long a drought will last and about the stability of an underground aquifer used for hydraulic fracturing waste water disposal. Any serious move on a nonrenewable water resource (i.e. groundwater) needs to approach each of these questions from the perspective of long-term risk analysis. Without enough information, this is virtually impossible.
So am I outright opposed to the idea of hydraulic fracturing? No. But I am opposed to the idea of risking irreversible damage to our nonrenewable water resources because an industry wants to guard its trade secrets. (Note that companies are guarding their fracking fluid formulas from the EPA, not simply from competitors). When it comes to water resources we don’t have a lot of wiggle room. If we botch what we have, we’re going to pay for it in droves down the line.
Any new developments in the water-as-a-resource field need to be matched by advances in technologies used to characterize and monitor that resource.
A few more interesting articles that I couldn’t help but share: