Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Davis makes this connection here…

The article entitled “The High Costs of Free Water” published in National Geographic on August 29, 2012 discusses the drawbacks of having the cost of water essentially free. This is topic falls under the study of hydrology because it relates to the distribution of water on earth. In most places the cost of receiving water is free, the customer only pays for the delivery of the water to our homes. In addition, customers may pay for the impurities to be cleaned out and a construction of a reservoir to store water, but receiving the water is basically free. Since water is free it does not fluctuate when water supplies are scare and because of the lack of price constraints the use of water has rapidly increased in many parts of the world. The overuse of water had led to the rise in sea level, draining of important rivers such as the Colorado and the Yellow. The author refers to this case as the new “tragedy of the commons” where individuals are acting in their own self-interest and will therefore deplete this limited but shared resource.  A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the region noted that “the population increase will put more pressure on the water resources that are already at their limit. In the past 20 years, the rapid depletion of water in the Southwest has been remarkable”. Also stating that 66% of the water in the Hoover Dam reservoir has been depleted in 6 years where before that took 17 years. An Article from The American says “…vast stretches of rivers are dead and dying, lakes are cesspools of waste, groundwater aquifers are over-pumped and unsustainably consumed, uncounted species of aquatic life have been driven to extinction…” Clearly the United States and the world has a major problem with their water management and based on what I know about WRE the news story is accurately reporting on an important WRE issue.


Figure 1 – Wasting water by watering the pavement.

Water resources engineering involves the distribution and use of water on earth, known as hydrology. The “free water” issues impacts the broader WRE context because it relates to society, politics and economics. Water depletion is a global issue because human life is dependent upon consuming water. Additionally water affects economics because many corporations use water for their products, such as Coke. If the price of water were to suddenly increase it would have a dramatic effect on those corporations’ expenses and profit. Politically, it is important that governments investigate ways to better price the cost of water but will be difficult to equally distribute the cost to citizens. Without better pricing the resources will continue to be abused as if it is infinite.


Bate, Roger. “China’s Sick Yellow River.” The American Magazine. N.p., 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.

Bowring, Sam. “Climate Change.” Mission 2012 : Clean Water. Massachusetts Institue of Technology, 2012. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.

Ritcher, Brian. “The High Costs of Free Water.” National Geographic. N.p., 29 Aug. 2012. Web. 08 Feb. 2013.