06.05.11Alan Harris

Water is Free

Water bucketFree Water for Everyone

Seriously, 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 the water 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 water, 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 water bill of $376.50 of which $103.71 is for the water used. In Phoenix, AZ the same water costs $34.76 or about 1/3 of what the water costs in Atlanta. Atlanta is a horrific example of what happens when infrastructure is ignored.

New York is planning to sell $510 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 $2.4B each year for 10 years! Results – the average water bill has almost doubled since 2006. By the way, water 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 water storage and distribution system is very expensive to build and maintain. The longer water systems are left on their own, 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 some water for your personal use.

If you liked this post, please share it with a friend, leave a comment, check out my previous posts and follow me on Twitter @h20Matters.

Alan Harris

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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 National Sales Operations Support Manager and Regional Sales Leader for our landscape maintenance division.


  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

  4. [...] But I do have 8 pots which have to be hand watered and I have an old fashioned water can that holds about 1-1/2 gallons. Since the can does not fit under the spigot at the bottom of the Butt (pun intended) I take the lid off and dip my can into the water. (No pun intended) Each can of water takes care of 3 pots, so after toting 37 lbs of water, the thirst of the potted plants is adequately quenched for a few days. Thankfully I enjoy spending time in the yard, because this process is neither quick nor efficient nor cost effective. My $129 investment will ROI after I use 6000 gallons, but hey the water is free. [...]

  5. [...] maker went on the fritz and I had to go without my morning latte.  Then I read Alan’s blog “Water is Free” and I thought about how fortunate we are to have such easy access to water. Imagine having to [...]

  6. [...] ROI for rain collection does not make sense except in times of drought. During a drought harvested rainwater is not only free, it’s [...]

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