This is a very important issue to me and should be to everyone but I've now been inspired to actually post about it because of the recent events. Unfortunately I do not have the time or the expertise to really cover this properly.
Besides oxygen water is the single most important resource on the planet. I don't think anyone is going to argue that point. So why are we so inept why it comes to thinking about water. In so many ways we've shown that we think of water are limitless, admittedly 70% of the world is covered with water so it's pretty easy for the average joe to think that we can't run out of water. While there is some truth in that, we're not going to "run out" of water in the literal sense. But its pretty easy to run out of Clean water. The vast vast majority of the worlds water is salt water, while its possible to desalinate water its extremely expensive and wasteful so the only countries that I'm aware of doing this are some oil rich nations in the middle east where they have cheap energy and very little rain.
Water is critical to life, we need it for ourselves and we need it for everything that we eat. If you're stranded on a deserted island a clean water source is you're first priority, then probably some shelter then food. Anyway I don't think I need to further explain why clean water is important. There are quite a few serious, life threatening, threats to our public water supply. The one that is in everyones mind right now is the drought in Georgia. This type of thing is going to continue as our climate changes. Our entire society has been built around fairly stable weather systems, those systems are changing. Living in NY people are able to grow plants that never could have survived a couple decades ago. Place that once got plenty of rain may turn to deserts and what are we going to do? Besides doing everything we can to prevent global warming which is of the utmost importance for innumerable reasons there is also the importance of city planning. Atlanta is a fast growing city, the infrastructure needs to keep pace, but also must remember that water is not an unlimited resource, this cannot be solved by larger pipes and mechanical means. We need to realize that a given space can only support a limited number of people I'm not sure that you can put an actual cap on the population of a city, but when you know that there is an impending problem and there is simply not the time to make the necessary fixes you need to look in other directions, the first being don't encourage growth when you know there is the looming risk of a water crisis. I know its easy to say this now, hind-sight is 20/20. It would be political suicide as a politician to say well we had a water problem this year, and next year could be much worse but if it rains enough we'll be fine. No politician is going to discourage growth even if growth means destruction. This also says a lot about our political system but we already knew our political system was fucked.
So what can we do? What can we do NOW? My first order would be to limit the amount of water usage, right now you can get a fine for using too much water, that will work for the lower and middle class but in the now famous case of the guy who was using simply obscene amounts of water a fine is clearly not enough. Some would say jail, I have a much simpler solution, turn off his water. I've had mine shut off because I forgot to pay a 30 dollar bill, if you use 14,000 gallons a day during a water emergency then fuck you, its shut off for a week. Do it again and its shut off for two weeks and 40 hours of community service, do it again and the three strikes effect comes in, its off till the drought is over and you have to do 400 hours of community service. Thats an obvious start. Another option is to pray for rain from your invisible sky daddy who must also be responsible for the drought in the first place, the problem is this doesn't actually accomplish anything, although if you do it right before the forecast calls for a little rain it at least gives people false hopes. I'd like to rant about the stupidity of praying for rain but PZ pretty well covers that. Another huge problem here is that Atlanta is getting all the attention because its a big city, but its the small towns that will be hit first and hardest often because cities like Atlanta are using their water, an especially cruel irony when its that cities lack of planning that caused the problem in the first place, the small town might have been ok on its own, but now its water is being used by the city because the city screwed up. I'm not saying you let the city dwellers die because of the poor planning of that cities leaders, but is it better to let the small town die because of things it had no control over simply because its smaller? I don't have a solution to that question.
The final huge problem of water is privatization. I will not beat around the bush here, Water is essential to life, I refuse to put the lives of entire communities in the hands of a corporation. A corporation by law must place the interests of the stock holders, aka short term profits, above all competing concerns. Imagine if all of Georgia's water were privatized and this drought were going on. Is it really cynical to think that they would take advantage of the situation and say that supply is down therefore price must go up. They might claim this is a way to encourage conservation which it might, but their motivation would be the drastically increased profits. Enron created power outages just to increase the price of electricity, imagine if a similar move was done with water? Some may claim I'm taking this too far but why is it the least bit implausible, the reality is it has already happened in other countries, do you really believe that corporations have loyalty to any particular flag?
This is also tied into one of my other biggest issues, the fact that a Corporation in legally considered a Person and therefore has all the same rights as a person, until Nike can be thrown in jail for breaking the law it is not a person, but this is a huge subject that I cannot cover as a minor side piece so I'll just leave that alone and get back to it another day.
Those who oppose giving control of our most important resource to corporations that are unaccountable to those they serve and driven solely by greed see bottled water as the leading edge of the wedge towards water privatization in this country. Bottle water is also a terrible idea because of the massive amounts of waste created by the millions of plastic bottles that are manufactured and then thrown away all so we can consume a product that is available at extremely low cost right in your home with minimal waste besides having to wash a glass. This article shows how even when the media covers the problem they simply say that we need to recycle the bottles, the problem is the bottles shouldn't be created in the first place. Plus there are huge problems with recycling plastics but again thats a subject for another day.
UPDATE: It should also be pointed out that Bottled water does not have to meet the same standards as tap water, the EPA does constant testing of public water. Bottled water on the other hand can be regulated by the FDA as long as it crosses state lines, but the FDA does not have as stringent rules and lacks the enforcement.
In the end all I'm saying is be aware. Water has been called the Oil of the 21st century, the corporations are battling for position to be able to reap the benefits of selling a product that everyone must buy. We must stay vigilant, throw down that Fiji bottle and if the water from you tap doesn't taste right then complain to the officials. Right now your water is controlled by people who must answer to elected officials, meaning you have some say. Fight back, because once that control is in the hands of corporations your options will be to pay whatever they ask, for water of what ever quality they deem acceptable, or die. Thats not a very democratic system.
I'll end this with the only song I know that touches on this issue, New World Water by Mos Def, this is the only video I could find.