At the Freakonomics blog, guest Charles Fishman explains “Why water will never be the next oil.” A sample:
If you leave aside the somewhat silly world of bottled water, there has been almost no innovation in the industry of water for decades. A water facility today uses the exact same technology it did in 1973. In what other industry is that the case? The typical Wal-Mart long-haul truck has more intelligence in it than the typical water system.
The technological revolution has completely bypassed the world of water, mostly because of the strange nature of the market for it. Water has almost no pricing signals. You can’t trade it. And while in the developed world you don’t typically run out, if serious scarcity develops, you can’t just buy more, no matter how much you’re willing to pay. The most liquid and plentiful natural resource on the planet is almost completely illiquid as an asset.
Actually, I’d be surprised if many water systems are not using microprocessors, for example, or other technologies in their systems. The “exact same technology [as] 1973” sounds a little over dramatic. But “strange nature of the market for it” is right.
Fishman has a new book out on water supply, The Big Thirst. (More: A WSJ review of The Big Thirst, the book’s website: http://www.thebigthirst.com/.) Fishman’s prior book was The Wal-Mart Effect, so perhaps he really knows something about how smart those long haul trucks are.