Many articles are appearing in various media scaring those of us in the West into thinking we might run out of water. An Arizona State University researcher and one-time director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources was recently quoted as saying “...everybody thinks they’re special, but nobody is going to be very special when we run out of water.”
This is typical of the scare tactics that are used to make us comfortable with more government regulation, which the scaremongers argue, is the only way to avoid such a calamity. Ironically, this is the only scenario in which we will run out of water. There is plenty of water on our planet.
The problem is getting it to the people who need it.
Sometimes this becomes expensive, and this is where market forces, not government, should be allowed to work. Just like any other commodity, such as gold or silver or diamonds or rare earth metals, the mining and movement of water can be expensive. If market forces are allowed to work, then water will go to the highest and best uses. A side benefit is that conservation will also occur naturally as the price rises.
However, these beneficial effects of conservation through market pricing can be thwarted by government actions. If a law is passed that prevents water from being transported out of a certain place or to a certain place, this can cause a shortage. Or, if government imposes price controls, there may be uses which cannot occur at these lower prices. Or, if government decides that some uses are more important and should get preferences, this can make other uses uneconomical.
Remember, in general, the only thing governments can do is stop you from doing what you want to do, force you to do what you don’t want to do, or eliminate some uses through price controls.
Water is a very precious commodity. Government’s role should be to ensure that there are no impediments to the operation of market forces.
Henry David Thoreau said it best: “Government never of itself furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.”