Where is our water going?

Sunday sees the start of World Water Week and today’s post comes to us from Professor Andrew K. Dragun, an Economist with the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University in Brisbane Australia. He is currently editor of the International Journal of Water and the International Journal of Agricultural Resources Governance and Ecology.

Water is emerging as one of the most serious and controversial resource and environmental issues of the twenty first century. Fundamental water shortage, chronic environmental despoliation of water systems and irreversible debilitation of associated land and marine systems looms, while public expenditures on increasing and improving the water supply are increasingly unaffordable.

A great many of the world’s water “markets” are distorted as a consequence of inappropriate incentive–disincentive systems. The observations of Professor R.H Whitebeck, commenting in the Geographical Journal on early irrigation development in California in 1919, that irrigation development “… was occurring at too rapid a rate and at too high a price”, remain as poignant now as they were insightful nearly a hundred years ago. From the experience of the irrigation colonies of the Chaffey Brothers in Northern Victoria to the Central Arizona Project and, the failures of irrigation in the Central Asian republics, the lack of financial viability of irrigation in the absence of substantial public subsidy is a general rule – even in the paragon of efficient trickle irrigation and high cost irrigation water, Israel.

In many cases the drivers of water development have been political expediency and a desire to end food shortages in many poor countries, with little attention to the costs, the benefits and the prices of water.  The inevitable result of the irrigation-led revolution in water development and regulation, seen throughout much of the twentieth century, is that a huge amount of water is being wasted… (more…)