Water pricing



Water Use Comparison of 5 U.S. Cities

Water prices are generally set to be as low as possible, but this does not encourage conservation.  If prices are increased, some of the economic and environmental bads that occur as a result of overuse and abuse will be lessened.  Everyone should be guaranteed a base quantity of water at a low price.  After that point however, price should increase substantially. Those who use more would pay more per unit for the luxury consumption.  This is called increasing block pricing, and can be used as an effective conservation tool. (see Irvine Ranch Table) Companion methods to increase conservation include water audits to locate intentional and unintentional consumption.  From there leaks are repaired, water-efficient fixtures are installed, and conservation methods are implemented.  Efficiency subsidies should be a part of a conservation initiative.




-Briscoe, John.  1996.  Water as an Economic Good:  The Idea and What it Means in Practice.  The World Bank, Washington, DC
- Sunding D. 2000. The price of water: Market-based strategies are needed to cope with scarcity. Cal Ag 54(2):56-63. DOI: 10.3733/ca.v054n02p56

Water scarcity

Facts from the World Health Organization and UNEP


  • A region is considered water stressed if water availability is less than 1700 m3/year (UNEP).
  • 5.9 billion people, or 87 per cent of the world’s population, and 84 per cent of the population living in the developing world now use drinking water from safer, improved sources. At current trends the world will meet or even exceed the water MDG target.
  • 3.8 billion people, or 57 per cent of the world’s population, get their drinking water from a piped connection that provides running water in their homes or compound.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa and the Oceania are the areas that are lagging behind. Just 60 per cent of the population in Sub-Saharan African and 50 per cent of the population in Oceania use improved sources of drinking-water.
  • In China, 89 per cent of the population of 1.3 billion has access to drinking-water from improved sources, up from 67 per cent in 1990. In India, 88 per cent of the population of 1.2 billion has access, as compared to 72 per cent in 1990.


Virtual water

Virtual Water

Virtual Water is concept to represent the water embedded in an economic good throughout its production and manufacturing process. It is used in international trade to help quantify the amount of water lost through export, or saved through importing water-rich goods. It has been proposed that trading water-rich goods would allow water poor countries to reduce their domestic production of water demanding products. This would also benefit water-rich countries who would profit from exporting their water-intensives goods. (1)

However, critiques exist. Virtual water assumes that all sources of water, whether in delivered as rainfall or irrigation, are of equal value. Second, it does not provide any indication of whether water resources are being used within sustainable extraction limits (4).

Despite these flaws with the concept of Virtual Water, it is still useful in visualizing the volume of water used in producing a good. This helps consumers to make more environmentally sound decisions, such as choosing to eat diet low in red meat and higher in vegetables and grains.