06.05.11Alan Harris

Water is Free

free waterFree Water for Everyone

Want Free Water?

Water is free and I will prove it to you. Take a bucket to the nearest creek, river, pond, lake or ocean. Dip it into the water and take it home. How much did it cost Okay, maybe not totally free. The bucket cost you or somebody else (if you picked it up on the side of the road) and of course it cost you time and the energy to tote the bucket, but the actual water was free.

People in Africa have to walk to the water source daily in order to survive. This fact is acceptable to many people since much of Africa is rural and classified as third world. Spin the globe to India and you have the same process of walking to get water occurring daily and not just in the rural areas, but in major cities as well. Even where people in India do not have to walk to get their water, the water may only be on a few hours each day.

What is surprising is 60+ years ago most of the populated cities in India had 24/7 always on water service. So what happened? Nothing. That’s right little to no money was invested in maintaining or expanding the water system. Over the decades the pipes deteriorated, pressure was lost while demand increased resulting in a system which was no longer sustainable.

In 2002 Atlanta began a $3B, 12 year project to update its century old neglected combined sewer and water system. As a result the water bills in Atlanta have tripled over the duration of the project. Today in Atlanta using 21 CCF of water results in a total bill of $376.50 of which $103.71 is for the water used. In Phoenix, AZ the same usage costs $34.76 or about 1/3 of what the costs are in Atlanta. Atlanta is a horrific example of what happens when infrastructure is ignored.

New York is planning to sell $510 million in Water Bonds. Not much you say? You are correct. This is only part of the spending strategy that also started in 2002 at the rate of $2.4 billion each year for 10 years! Results – the average water bill has almost doubled since 2006. By the way, the bonds are considered a good investment because people generally pay their water bill. The phone and electricity can be turned off and you can survive, but you have to have water.

Of course if Bill Clinton and the InterAction Council have their way, they will petition the United Nations Security Council to make everyone (except for people in poverty) pay more for water. They will also prioritize who gets first right to water (can you say water envy?) And we thought water was a local issue.

So while the water may be free or at least very cheap for the time being, the storage and distribution system is very expensive to build and maintain. The longer the infrastructure is left alone, the more expensive it becomes to catch up. So what is your community doing to keep from having to walk to get free water?

Want more free water? Buy (oops, not free) a rain barrel and next time it rains harvest the rainwater for your personal use.

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Alan Harris

Alan Harris is a water management pioneer. With roots in landscape architecture, Alan has worked with irrigation throughout his career experimenting with hydrozones and a variety of high efficiency irrigation systems. Now, over thirty years in the landscape industry, Alan continues to stay apprised of the latest technology even in a sales leadership capacity as our Director of Sales Operations for our landscape maintenance division. In addition to his contributions to this blog, Alan keeps his hand in water management as a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine and speaker at WaterSmart Innovations Conference.




  1. Monday, 11:37 Martha Golea

    You make several eye-opening points, as always. With water rates being so high in Atlanta, do people go to great measures to conserve? Or do they still throw water away like it’s worthless?

  2. Tuesday, 2:38 Alan Harris

    In Atlanta the only incentive to conserve is to avoid a $600 water bill, which is a pretty good incentive. A few years ago during the drought the overall consumption went down, but that was when we were counting down the days until we were running out of water. Once the rains returned(in the form of a 1000 year flood) some of the restrictions were removed and consumption increased.

  3. Wednesday, 10:05 Alan Harris

    A twitter follower from India sent me the following of how technology is helping to solve their water problems:
    Siemens’ emerging solutions for life’s most basic element called water

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