Water Scarcity and Drought in the US

The Roosevelt Institute held its fourth meeting, “Water Scarcity and Drought in the US,”this past Tuesday, October 14. Led by the Energy & Environment Center, this discussion explored some of the complexities that arise with water scarcity, and how it is impacting the United States today. The discussion started out by addressing some of the key reasons as to why water scarcity exists in the first place. Many members expressed agreement in the fact that while issues like population growth and climate change need to be addressed in the long term, there needs to be a fundamental short term change in the way that Americans view and consume water.

A variety of body members knew impressive facts about water use off the top of their heads. One member mentioned the American consumption of meat, and how it takes over 1000 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef. This led other members to question the consumption of meat altogether – ultimately highlighting the necessity of a cultural change on how we use and think of water.

One member, a native Californian, claimed that there’s no public awareness regarding water scarcity in his state, despite the ongoing four year drought. This led to another member chiming in on her experiences of water usage in Australia. She stated that there was a “culture of shame” regarding excessive water use throughout the country. She also said that the federal government went as far as creating TV ads to spread this cultural phenomena. Statistically, this has been proven successful in the conservation of water in Australia. Could this be applicable in the United States?

Our conversation then addressed the privatization of water. That is, the privatization of municipal water services throughout the US. Over the last few decades, municipalities have been unable to maintain basic water infrastructure because they keep water prices low and collect little to no revenue. One solution, in order to create a more effective management system, would be to privatize the system. Some members were in support of this idea. One member suggested that privatization would be more efficient and would allow for the control of water prices while getting rid of the politics surrounding it. Another member suggested that we should treat water like we treat energy ¬– it should be privatized, and there should be an independent oversight committee in each state. Other members were strongly opposed to privatization. Some cited how water was a human right, and that it should be administered by the public; others were quick to cite the problems of privatizing other industries like prisons; and some brought up the past failures of privatizing water throughout the world.

The fact brief for the meeting can be found here, and if you’re more interested in pursuing this topic, or anything else related to Energy & the Environment, feel free to contact me at sjp2171@columbia.edu.

Thanks to all of those that attended!

Sam Place
Energy & Environment Center Leader