Nov 29, 2010

Water: a limited resource. Should we measure our water footprints?

excerpt from


‘Water Footprinting’ to Deal With Demand for Supplies

Claudia Ringler, a senior research fellow in Montreal with the International Food Policy Research Institute, based in Washington, said water footprinting was a good concept in theory, but less so in practice. “It’s almost impossible to do a comprehensive analysis,” Ms. Ringler said. “One has to be very careful before drawing conclusions based on it.”

David Zetland, an economist and the author of a forthcoming book, “The End of Abundance: Your Guide to the New Economics of Water Scarcity,” said footprinting would serve little purpose unless, for a start, water was priced according to its value.

If water were appropriately priced, he said, the price of consumer products would reflect the amount of water used in making them. Since most consumers either would not understand footprinting, or would not care, Mr. Zetland said, they would almost always pay more attention to the price of what they bought than to a certificate on the label.

From the point of view of producing companies, he added, if water supplies were free, or nearly so, water footprinting and investments in water efficiency would remain superfluous. “Water footprinting has no operational, economic or social value to companies if the cost of labor and equipment to reduce water consumption exceeds the cost of the water saved,” Mr. Zetland said.

The basic problem, he said, is that the price of water rarely reflects its value or scarcity. “The price for most products combines value to consumers with the cost of production and delivery,” Mr. Zetland said. “Since the price of water only reflects the cost of delivery — the water itself is free — we don’t pay a price that reflects its value or scarcity.”

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