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A little democracy in our water?

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Your cover story, “Pipe Dreams,” says water always moves to the big money in the cities (HCN, 8/4/03: Pipe Dreams). So does everything else. It’s the way the system works, but it’s not just. Why is it so difficult for the West to install a democratic water distribution system? Because the country doesn’t have a democratic economic system.

The West’s political economy needs to say: You want to live in the desert, fine. Then pay for what you use. Bryan Burke’s great concept of Land Use Unit Days, laid out in his letter in the Aug. 4 issue, can be adapted to Water Use Unit Days, or WUUDs.

Water would be assigned by a hierarchy of uses: the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people with intelligent uses, and only for applications unsolvable by any other than water means. Drinking and bathing obviously are uppermost. Convert the toilets to compost or electric incineration.

Water-use pricing must be adjusted to family size. A reasonable amount for each person at a low price, sharply increased for additional use, overuse or misuse. You would get so many WUUDs per person. If you wanted to forego your bath so you could wash your car, it would be your choice — though you had best discuss your preferences beforehand with the people who ride with you. Families with teenagers might need to put programmable locks on the shower.

Farmers must be required to conform to the same standard instead of growing stupid crops like sod for Las Vegas. Why should they be allowed? Because there’s a market for it? That reveals what markets really are: totally unequal, for sale to the highest bidder regardless of integrity of purpose or use. This is not democracy or decency. A system that can’t handle selectivity needs be sent along with the water sewage to the nearest sewer plant and shut down.

James Whiteside
Danbury, Connecticut

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