Issue 68 • Week of May 6, 2023

Over 4 million people narrowly escaped one of the worst ever man-made disasters five years ago this week when Cape Town, South Africa was expected to experience Day Zero. Scientists warned the city months before they were going to run out of drinking water.

Luckily, the scarcity alert came just in time. Residents were able to halve their water usage and averted the crisis for now thanks to sufficient rain. But as global populations increase and people continue to migrate to drier climates, water conservation alone will not solve the increasing problem of extended droughts.

Arid regions are the most at risk of water bankruptcy. In fact, wells have already run dry in some rural Arizona communities. But major US cities like Miami where the rising sea level is overwhelming aquifers and Atlanta that was not built next to a major river or lake are also in trouble.

Rationally, people would be convinced to move if not by these forecasts then by appraisers adjusting water bills due to reserves and property values based on risk. Officials could levy taxes on thirsty crops or livestock raised in drought conditions to shift behavior. However, economists and politicians are rarely incentivized to adapt to the full long-term consequences of unrelenting demand.

Freshwater, once thought to be accessible nearly anywhere if only you could drill a well or dam a river, is now poised to be the most precious resource of our century.

So, what can we do to increase our water supply?

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