Yup, you heard (or rather read) right, measures that we take to save water have in fact the unintended consequence of increasing its use. This doesn’t mean that it’s bad to save water. After all, even if our planet is 70% covered by it, we’re quite familiar with the ancient mariner’s woe, “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
It just so happens that as we become more conscious of our use of fresh water, we find water saving methods, driving down its price. As with anything that becomes cheap, demand for it increases. That is the Law of Supply and Demand, and nothing we do can ever repeal it. Economists have a special name for this contradiction, the Jevons paradox, that posits that improvements in efficiency in the use of a resource drives down its price, and has the unintended effect of increasing its overall consumption.
You don’t believe us? Consider that the computing power that you have in your cellphone is much more powerful than the computers used to send a man to the moon. Back then, the ancient computers cost millions of dollars to acquire and were used to make the calculations to plot the rocket’s possible routes for the moonshot.
Now, it costs just a few hundred dollars for even greater and faster computing power, and all we use it for is to stalk Nikki Minaj or something. That’s because chips and computing power has become so cheap that it’s become ubiquitous. Unfortunately, the same thing is happening to our fresh water use.
Now isn’t fresh water supposed to be a limited resource? Yup, it is. Unfortunately, nobody is keeping tabs on its use. So while there are agencies that save water resources, they’re doing a crummy job at monitoring it. Sure, one needs to get a water permit to even start drilling a well or building a canal, but once you get the permit, no one actually watches how much water you draw.
So how do we resolve this paradox? We can use part of the computing power we have at our disposal to measure water savings – from the draw rates at the reservoirs to the flow rates at the meters, and if possible, all the way to the tap. Next, a cap should be put on the overall fresh water use, and this should cascade down to the pumps that draw water from the aquifers.
Then, when water use is already measured, a rationalized tariff system can be put into place that could incentivize water saving measures that actually help control its overall use. Maybe, we can even put in a trading system in place, among other things to control water depletion. That would be a better use for computing power than viewing Nikki’s antics during a pre-party before Super Bowl XLIX.
Otherwise, we might as well go back to using artesian wells and hauling pails for our drinking needs.