Water is a resource that "we" cannot live without and must be protected at all costs. "We" refers to all things living - not only humans, and this makes it a global issue. The value of water, like any other natural resource, encompasses several dimensions: ecological, socio-cultural and economic. This article will focus mainly on the economic value of water and the concept that water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good.
Water may be used directly, as in domestic consumption or water- based recreation, or indirectly where water contributes to the industrial production of other goods or to irrigate crops. Water does not only enter the production processes, but also serves to assimilate and to remove waste products. Water is a key element of every ecosystem and supports all life. Because of the diversity of water uses, it is virtually impossible to attach a single value to water.
The value of water is related to direct water use (consumption), indirect water use (industrial water usage, wastewater treatment) and enjoyment of any ecosystem (recreational). Determining the value of water is an issue of supply and demand, scarcity or abundance, as well as absolute importance or uniqueness. The economic value of water is strongly related to four factors: quantity, time of use, location of use, and quality. The first three are associated with the issue of scarcity/ abundance, while quality affects the entire range of uses, the type and cost of treatment and overall value of water for all uses. As population increases, the consumptive and assimilative demands for water will grow too. Non-consumptive demands, such as recreational usage, also increase.
Scarcity and value of water are closely related. Stresses on water resources are forever increasing and the amount of clean, fresh water is limited. With more water being used and more waste water being discharged, the cost for treating and managing high quality supplies will increase. Having water entails the responsibility to clean it up after its use, before it passes on to the next downstream user or receiver. Water quality is everyone's problem. Nearly everybody relies on municipal water supplies, and our health depends on the quality of these supplies.
Canada has been putting this essential service at serious risk, but not paying a realistic price for its provision. The upgrading and repair of a neglected and crumbling municipal water supply and sewage system may cost Canada well above 10 billion dollars. Economic instruments such as water pricing and marketable rights are tools for managing physical water shortage, water quality deterioration and impacts on aquatic ecosystems. The distinction between the pricing of water as a resource and the pricing of water control, transportation and treatment should be recognized and the pricing of the services can be viewed as a valuable tool for revenue generation that can be invested in infrastructure renewal. Canada has one of the world's highest water consumption rates, with an average household using more than 500 litres per day. Half of the water used is wasteful and unnecessary.
For comparison, in 1989, the average price paid for municipal water was among the lowest- $0. 36/1000 litres (while in USA 0. 42, Sweden 0. 78, Germany 1.
33 and Australia 1. 47). We need to pay realistic rates for water services to cover their true costs. Users must recognize the real value of this resource, and it should be used more efficiently and wisely. As usage becomes more efficient, we would produce less sewage and could afford better treatment for it. By increasing the cost of our waste delivery (eg.
by doubling the current rate), we could cover the projected 10 billion dollar upgrading costs in only 5 years. Using and managing our water resources - and the environment in general - in such a way that they both maintain a strong economy and preserve a healthy environment should be our overall goal. Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should, therefore, be recognized as an economic good in all environmental policy decisions made by the City. Past failures to recognize the value of water have led to damage of this resource and the environment as a whole.