Know your H2O: The review


Editor's note: David Zetland, is a senior water economist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands who trained in California. We  cross-post occasional content from his blog, Aguanomics, here on the Range.

The Surfrider Foundation sent me this 20 minute video. I liked most of it but had some comments (below). Watch the video and see if you agree:

The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water from Surfrider Foundation on Vimeo.


  • Love the production quality. Very cool.
  • Wastewater discharges are not as bad as described. San Diego (Surfrider is based just north of San Diego) and Sacramento only partially treat their wastewater, but most places are better. EU countries may "over clean" their wastewater -- removing contaminants that are not at harmful levels. It's particularly important to avoid hysteria about wastewater if you want to convince people that recycled water (toilet to treatment to tap) is safe to drink.
  • People do not lack "access" to water due to over use. The problem (human right to water) is about incompetent or corrupt politics.
  • Peak water is an inaccurate idea. Scarcity is more accurate.
  • CA uses 19% of electricity -- not energy -- on treating and moving water. Since electricity accounts for only 25 percent of energy use that means that water treatment and distribution only consume about 5 percent of the California's energy. I've seen this mistake ("19 percent of energy") more often recently, and we've got to prevent its spread.
  • Great point on quarreling water managers. They can be coordinated in 2 ways -- bureaucratic convergence (good luck) and market prices (much easier).
  • Half the water from desal is NOT wasted -- it's brine discharge.

I address most of these issues in my book , using the same examples, e.g., San Diego's wastewater discharge/desalination plans and the value of wetlands for coastal protection and water filtering.

As a final thought, I recommend that we consider one more "R" with respect to water policy (reduce, reuse, recycle) and that's... Raise prices to reflect water scarcity. Higher prices send a useful signal to water consumers that helps them conserve and generates additional revenue that can be used to improve the reliability and quality of our water supplies. 

Bottom Line: I give this video FOUR stars for helping people see the connections between water flows and uses in an entertaining way.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

 Originally posted at Aguanomics.

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