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Economic Viewpoint

Water: abundant, and scarce

April 14, 2016

A number of recent events have reminded us that water’s availability remains a major issue in our societies. The extreme drought that has been plaguing California since 2011 is one notorious, though not unique case. Just before California was hard hit, Australia was emerging from a drought that was just as extraordinary. It lasted more than a decade. Drought is one of many facets of the issue of water availability. Cities, and sometimes whole regions, are seeing their drinking water supplies dwindle due to overuse of the resource. In other cases, the problem originates with environmental degradation. Quebec, the “land of lakes and rivers,” has not had a drought that lasted years. However, it has gone through periods in which the water level in the St. Lawrence Seaway dropped so much that ships’ loads had to be decreased. In agriculture, droughts lasting several weeks can leave crops thirsty. One of the main challenges, however, is containing the costs associated with the supply of drinking water. Substantial investments must go into maintaining ageing distribution networks. Here, as elsewhere, water’s availability and quality is a growing concern. At the same time, it creates economicopportunities.

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