How much would you pay for water?

While politicians in Canada and US debate about the Keystone XL Pipeline, the construction of another pipeline is being discussed in California. Instead of transporting oil, the proposed 200 miles of pipeline will be carrying water.


As of March 6, 2014 about 22% of California is experiencing exceptional drought (United States Drought Monitor).

Currently, more than 90% of California is experiencing a drought. While Vancouverites were drowning in rain last week, Californians were already rationing water.

Normally, cities such as L.A. have plans for situations like these. But after 2013, the driest year in California history, the Los Angeles Department of Water only has enough water stored away for two more years of dry weather.


Depleted water levels at San Gabriel Reservoir, Angeles National Forest, can be clearly seen. Photo Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

With little chance of changing the weather trends, people are turning to other possible solutions. Scott Slater’s company, Cadiz, is proposing to build a pipeline from an aquifer under the Mojave Desert to Orange County. That’s right, to solve LA’s water problems, people are willing to take water from a desert.

But that is the situation California is currently in. And as aquifers across the US are depleted by droughts and over usage, American demand for freshwater will only increase. Gary Doer, Canadian Ambassador to the US, recently predicted that five years from now, the big debate will be about Canada exporting water to the US.

Water as a commodity


Even the Hoover Dam in Nevada is experiencing low water levels. Photo Credit: AP

Water is already classified as a commodity under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). So far, Canada has only exported bottled water, in containers of no more than 20 litres, to the US. But with a fifth of the world’s freshwater supply, it will only be a matter of time before the US comes knocking on Canada’s door. What will happen then?

Investors call freshwater “blue gold”. Already, water can be bought and sold like gold and oil. However, the monetary value of water is relatively low because of the vast amount of water we can access.


Credit: Environment Canada

In Canada, the cost of water is only $0.31 per cubic metre. One cubic metre is the equivalent of one thousand litres and in 2004, the average Canadian used 329 litres of fresh water per day. That adds up to less than a dollar a day for water, and that’s if you even have to pay for water. At current prices, people barely stop to think about how much water they are using, or wasting.

But the intrinsic value of water is much higher than gold or oil. Imagine your life without access to fresh drinking water. How much would you be willing to pay for water then?

Other thoughts


Folsom Lake, a reservoir in Northern California. Low water levels have uncovered a gold rush ghost town that was flooded when the dam was built. Photo Credit: AP

  • While Canada has 20% of the world’s freshwater supply, we only have 7% of the world’s renewable freshwater supply
  • Demand for freshwater increases by 64 billion cubic metres (or 64 trillion litres) every year.
  • In 2013, only 3.6 inches of rainfall was recorded for the whole year at the University of Southern California’s National Weather Service.
  • Golf courses require a lot of water to keep green. Golf courses located in California’s dry Coachella Valley use almost 1 million gallons of water per day. That’s about 3.7 million liters! But in Canada, that amount of water would only cost $1100.

One day, a beautiful clear sunny day in California may just be a nightmare instead.



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Alice Gu is a second-year science student. She hopes to share some of the fascinating events developing in the world around us.