Today, October 23, 2019, organizations across the county are urging people to “Imagine a Day without Water.” The event, coordinated by the US Water Alliance, is intended to remind us all about the value of water, and to push us to think for just a moment of where we would be without it.
When I recently attended the OneWater Summit in Austin, TX, also put on by the US Water Alliance, many stories were shared about the struggle communities and individuals are facing in Texas when water is scarce or contaminated or inaccessible. Whether the costs arise from hauling in bottled water for years to a community with a dried up well, or from the economic effects of a 6 day boil water notice in a city with a population of almost a million people, the immense value of clean, reliable and sustainable water sources is real for Texans.
Similarly, in our water rich southeastern state of North Carolina, there are many residents who can speak about their recent days without water, whether they are relying on systems that have failed in the wake of the string of major storms that have hit North Carolina in the past five years, or whether they have awoken to the news of a new form of contamination in their water supply, such as GenX.
At the EFC, when we imagine a day without water, we think about the many ways that water is inaccessible at both the community and individual levels all across the US, including from a cost standpoint. In a 2017 report we produced for the US Water Partnership, we looked at different water access challenges ranging from residents in the Colonias of Texas who have never had water access in their communities, to low-income residents in water rich states whose service has been shut off repeatedly for failure to be able to pay drastically increasing water rates. Days without water arise not only from drought or contamination, but from cost as well.
As we move forward and think about the many ways that we can reduce those future days without water, reflecting on the price of our water is a good starting point. Ensuring that we are building in costs to cover the future reliability of our resources and to buffer those periods of drought, of water quality challenges, of unexpected storms, and of economic downturns is essential to keeping clean water flowing in our communities.
As part of the OneWater Summit, Scott Tong with American Public Media referenced a story he wrote on the cost of water in which he tracked his family of five’s usage for a day and then found out how much it cost him. The punch line is startling. His findings help highlight how far water pricing is from capturing its true value and is a great starting point for imagining a day without it.
Wherever you are and whatever your community’s water access issues might be, check out local Imagine a Day Without Water events.
Here’s to a future with fewer days without water!
Erin Riggs is a Senior Project Director at the EFC and conducts applied research surrounding legal, policy, and accounting framework that influences environmental finance issues around the country. She graduated from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law where she pursued a law degree with a specialization in Environmental and Land Use issues. After law school, Erin worked as the Assistant Executive Director of Waterkeepers Carolina, a statewide organization representing the interests of the Riverkeepers across the state. She then spent three years working in Florida as a staff attorney for state court judges in the areas of both criminal and family law.