A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Value of Grey Groundwater

A few years back, Oregon State University hosted a weekly seminar series focusing on Water Economics. OSU invited experts from across the globe, and included heavy weights such as the legendary Chuck Howe (video), Gary Libecap, Clay Landry, Ron Griffin, among many others. (No, Aguanomics was not in the crowd as he was still *growing up* getting his PhD at UC Davis).

One of the common themes that I observed through my biased lens of groundwater hydrology was how groundwater and surface water were *lumped* together when it came to valuing water. I often asked the question of how groundwater could not be more valuable than surface water since it was (1) typically available at the point of use, thus requiring limited infrastructure, and more importantly, (2) typically did not require extensive and expensive treatment. In other words, groundwater usually does not need treatment prior to distribution as drinking water, unless of course, it is either under the direct influence of surface water or has elevated concentrations of an analyte like arsenic, fluoride, or some legacy contaminant leftover from the cold war (list too long to mention, but there are water systems treating for some of these goodies like the solvent TCE or perchlorate). I never did get an answer to my question. Groundwater was valued simply as *water*.

Something is happening in Texas that water economists should take a look at (and it does not have anything to do with Governor Rick Perry and prayer). Huntsville, Texas is looking to sell their wastewater that is derived from groundwater as outlined in this article in  The Huntsville Item.

Public Utilities Director Carol Reed said the city could make as much as $100,000 per year for the sale of the effluent, money that would then go back into the city’s wastewater fund. “Whether or not this business arrangement works out, if this is approved, we would have the right to do whatever with our effluent,” Reed said. “The major source of the water coming from the homes to our two treatment plants is groundwater. When we pump that groundwater, we’re not required to return that to a river basin. That plays a big role in this. We’re asking the state of Texas for a water rights permit that allows us to own the rights to our own water that we discharge from our wastewater plants.”

So at least in Texas, groundwater does not need to be discharged within the surface water basin it is pumped from. While the Rainbow Water Coalition is not an expert in such important matters as water economics, it sounds like there is some added value to the ultimate *source* of greywater, especially if it is derived from groundwater.

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Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else. ~ Lyndon B. Johnson, Former Texas Senator and 36th President of the United States 

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