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Should Water Be a Commodity or a Right?

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To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowWater

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

Do Now

Should we consider water as a commodity, available only to those who can pay for it, or as a right, freely available to everyone to use (and to waste)? Why?


Water is essential to life on earth, but only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater and the majority of that is locked up in glaciers and ice caps. Our historic water sources may be drying up as a growing number of companies, cities and individuals compete for water. Runoff from glaciers and snowpack has historically helped keep reservoirs full, but due to global warming, these resources are getting smaller and melting earlier. Another major source of the world’s drinking water is aquifers, or underground reservoirs. These “invisible” lakes are being emptied faster than they are being replenished. The current drought in California may even leave some cities and areas in the state without water at all. While certain water districts and cities put water restrictions in place, others are reluctant to do so, or don’t have the means to enforce restrictions.

The solutions to our water issues are complex. In most cities in the United States, people pay the city to transport and filter water, usually a few dollars per 1,000 gallons of water or a flat fee. In rural areas, water is often supplied by homeowners’ wells. In some areas, desalination plants have been put in place to make ocean water safe to drink, but desalination is a long and costly process. When water is scarce, factories, farmers and individuals have to compete for the same rare resource. Some say that putting a higher price on water would give people an incentive to conserve. Not only would they save water, they’d save money, too. But others say that this would give the wealthy an advantage, and that the only solution is to treat water as a universal right, free and available to everyone regardless of ability to pay.

What do you think? Should water be treated as a right or a commodity? Should it be equally available to all people regardless of conservation efforts and labor costs? Or should it be a commodity, more easily accessible to those who are financially well off? What other information would you need before deciding?



KQED Science audio California Communities That Pay a Flat Rate for Water Use
For generations, water meters have been an important tool for measuring how much water people use in California. And the drought has intensified the importance of that measurement. However, more 250,000 homeowners and businesses don’t have meters installed. They pay a flat rate for all the water they use…and use more water than those with meters.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowWater

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets. You can visit our video tutorials that showcase how to use several web-based production tools. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

United Nations infographic The Human Right to Water
On July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to clean drinking water by passing a resolution. This infographic shares eight facts about the resolution.

NPR audio story The Search For Drinking Water In California Has Led To The Ocean
The California drought has state officials searching for alternative sources of water, including desalinated ocean water.

This post was contributed by youth volunteers and interns in the Galaxy Explorers program at Chabot Space & Science Center. Explorers share science through live public demonstrations, hands-on activities, and outreach events in their schools and communities. Open to all Bay Area teens, the program focuses on providing support and opportunities in the sciences to Oakland youth historically underrepresented in STEM careers.

Chabot’s mission is to inspire and educate visitors about Planet Earth and the Universe through exhibits, telescope viewing, planetarium shows, interactive programs, and engaging experiences to connect visitors with the earth and environment, astronomy and space travel. Chabot’s education programs promote STEM literacy skills needed for a 21st-century society and workforce.

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