Let’s talk about blue gold

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As the 2008 documentary “Blue Gold” suggests, there are bound to be world water wars in the next few decades, as the survival of our civilization will depend on water resources that are growing ever more scarce.

Just as we are fighting over oil resources now, so will we declare war around the globe to control water.

More than 70 percent of our planet’s surface is covered by water. Our bodies are as much as 60 percent water, including our blood and brain-matter. And most of what we eat and drink includes a high percentage of water (97 percent in beer).

It’s the process of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, surface runoff and accumulation that eventually allows us to have enough water for agriculture and drinking. As global warming engulfs us — despite deniers out there in wishful-thinking land — with 7 billion inhabitants, water is becoming more precious every day.

Colorado offers a unique set of conditions for what the future holds. Last year we had a record snowfall of 525 inches. This year is reminiscent of the snow drought of the early 1980s; snowpack in the Colorado River basin is 44 percent of last year’s record level, and 63 percent of the annual average.

During the 2002 Hayman fire that consumed around 138,000 acres, I recall having to ration water to my restaurant customers. Only when asked, would we offer water. A glass of water wastes another when washed. Cars couldn’t be washed with garden hoses, and lawns had to be watered on assigned days only.

When precipitation was zero this March, climatologists took little comfort in the relatively good reservoir levels. Their worries are about a year from now, if warmer weather persists. We can perform rain dances, as some chiefs were asked to do for snow in Vail this past ski season; others have suggested magnetic air-spray Ion-generators as a means of forming rain clouds.

Can we bring market wisdom to water? First, local conditions: We live in the high desert, despite pretty lakes and snow-covered mountains. It’s dry here. Second, given limited supply and an ongoing increase in demand, prices should go up. Third, since we despise government subsidies, let prices reflect the true cost of water.

So, if you insist on growing Kentucky bluegrass in your backyard, you should pay full price for the Midwestern luxury. What happened to xeriscaping or xerogardening as ways to reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation? What happened to drip-irrigation systems (originally developed in Israel in the late 1960s)?

Our aesthetic addiction to green lawns may harken as far back as some European ancestors from England or Ireland. It may be more recently associated with transplants coming from the Midwest or East Coast where golf courses dot the landscape that was once farming land. Can our water supplies support 15 golf courses around town?

The quality of our water is good enough not to warrant buying water bottles (see the 2012 “Drinking Water Quality Report”). Mayor Michael Bloomberg admonished New Yorkers not to waste on average $3,000 annually on bottled water when tap water would cost them only $30 annually. His worry was about the city’s landfill, something we can ignore because our city doesn’t collect that much garbage.

As we plan the sale of Colorado Springs Utilities, and as we address our agreement with Pueblo in regard to stormwater controls and Southern Delivery System, here is what we can do.

First, separate the water department from the rest of Colorado Springs Utilities. Outside of historical precedence, energy concerns are different from water issues and should be treated differently. This would also protect water contracts and agreements for the long term regardless of the power plants’ fate.

Second, whatever the price of municipal water today, it should be doubled as soon as possible. We should use market mechanisms not only to reflect today’s reality (costs) but encourage long-term planning that would ensure future water supplies. Conservation behavior will become a by-product of this price increase, a much more effective tool than yet another set of regulations.

Third, until we begin to sell our natural gas to out-of-state customers (in the Midwest), and then buy their water (from the Great Lakes), we should cherish our shrinking water resources. It’s an asset we should protect.

And finally, when you brush your teeth or shave, turn off the water till you rinse. When you shower, make it as short as possible; and when you drink, refill your own bottle and sip slowly. It all makes financial sense, while being mindful of living in the desert.

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS who dreamed of ranching in the Negev but couldn’t afford to buy water. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com