In Order to Have Water

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News Article

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The New York Times Company




The Northeast is running out of water. Vital supplies are contaminated by pollutants, depleted by drought, and have lost natural recharging from wetlands now filled in by construction. But demand from residential and industrial users increases.

In Massachusetts, 30 towns have had supplies curtailed, crops have failed, and the state university had to shut briefly. Other states from Maine to Virginia are encountering similar problems. The shortage is real and recurring.

The technological solutions are to enlarge reservoirs, build interstate pipelines, drill deeper wells, and thus try to improve the supply. But these are costly steps, and even if the supply is increased it will be managed the same way, and demand will soon outstrip supply once again. For example, almost all municipal-supply authorities in New England still charge users for water on a ''declining-block'' rate basis - that is, actually charging lower rates for higher volumes of water used! Under this suicidal approach, even new enlarged supplies will be rapidly depleted. Thus, the most critical issues are not technological, but legal and political, and the major task is to develop water-management practices that will recognize resource limitations and relate demand to supply.

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