November 2012, Vol. 24, No.11
Aquanomics: Water Markets and the Environment
B. Delworth Gardner and Randy T. Simmons (2012). The Independent Institute, 100 Swan Way, Oakland, CA 94621-1428, 413 pp., $34.95, softcover, ISBN-978-1-4128-4578-6
John R. Wennersten
The authors of this book have put
together an extremely useful primer of up-to-date information on water markets,
pricing, and the economics of dam decommissioning. The book explains that water
needs to be treated differently from other resources; water needs to be viewed
as both a pricing tool and a natural resource.
The biggest problem we
confront in the future, argue Gardner and Simmons, is that humans have altered
freshwater ecosystems worldwide. Currently, the regulatory framework for these
freshwater markets is unstable in the United States and elsewhere.
The authors have assembled
a number of seasoned perspectives that range from water quality markets to the
role of water in the political economy of the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta. A
unifying theme of these essays is the current difficulty in expanding water
laws and removing barriers for improved water efficiencies and
By far the most
interesting essay in this book is that of Brian Steed. In “Lessons From Los
Angeles: Dealing With Diminished Predictability in Los Angeles Water Resources,”
Steed chronicles Los Angeles’ problematic water history. In many respects, he
finds that Los Angeles is the template for all American cities that experience
economic and population growth and need to garner water stability.
The lesson learned is that
many of the areas where water has been imported from have now become
water-needing growth areas in their own right. As Steed notes, people “not only
want water flowing from their taps, many also want a flourishing ecosystem in
the area where the water originates.” As cities develop their diversified water
portfolios, they will have to implement water technologies that include
low-flow toilets, graywater reuse, and conservation-based water pricing
systems. As prices rise in urban water markets, Steed concludes that
desalination will become an increasingly attractive option.
The book is written in a
forthright non-technical style. Insights from “water people” such as Brandon
Scarborough, Richard Wahl, Pearl Zheng, and Susan Sayre more than justify the
price of this well-bound edition.
John R. Wennersten is the author of Global Thirst: Water and Society in the 21st Century and is a consultant on urban rivers at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.