Increasing attention is also being paid to the global “virtual water” trade. It appears in food or other products that require water to produce, products that are then exported to another nation. The US may consume even more water – virtual water – by importing goods that require lots of water to make. At the same time, the US exports virtual water through goods it sells abroad.
As scarcity drives up the cost of fresh water, more efficient use of water will play a huge role, experts say, including:
• Superefficient drip irrigation is far more frugal than “flood” irrigation. But water’s low cost in the US provides little incentive to build new irrigation systems.
• Aging, leaking water pipes waste billions of gallons daily. The cost to fix them could be $500 billion over the next 30 years, the federal government estimates.
• Desalination. Dozens of plants are in planning stages or under construction in the US and abroad, reports say.
• Privatization. When private for-profit companies sell at a price based on what it costs to produce water, that higher price curbs water waste and water consumption, economists say.
In the US today, about 33.5 million Americans get their drinking water from privately owned utilities that make up about 16 percent of the nation’s community water systems, according to the National Association of Water Companies, a trade association.
“While water is essential to life, and we believe everyone deserves the right of access to water, that doesn’t mean water is free or should be provided free,” says Peter Cook, executive director of the NAWC. “Water should be priced at the cost to provide it – and subsidized for those who can’t afford it.”