Water as a Commons

70% of the planet is cowered with fluid water- All life depends on it on planet earth. Its life giving chemistry has natured life on Earth for billions of years, as one of the basic element of the every day existence of ordinary and human life, next to the air, water is our most basic natural common.

Our human bodies are about 60 percent water. It regulates our body temperature, moves nutrients through our cells, keeps our mucous membranes moist and flushes waste from our bodies.

Most people loose around 2 litres a water a day throu sweating, exhaling, eliminating it, we also lose electrolytes — minerals like sodium and potassium that regulate the body’s fluids. This is the amount of water what we need for our every day survival.

The lifestyle of nations reached today depends heavily upon having plenty of cheap, clean water available as well as an inexpensive safe way to dispose of it after use. Nature has limited the supply of water for our use. Although there seems to be plenty of water on earth, only 0.3% of it is available and not always in the right place at the right time.

Water supply has emerged as a critical issue for the 1990 s and beyond. Water resources, until recently considered cheap and plentiful, are now recognized to be scarce and valuable. More than 230 million people live in 26 countries classified as “water deficient”. The number of countries facing severe
water shortage is likely to increase dramatically in the next decade. Currently, more than a billion people, about 17 percent of the world’s population, don’t have access to clean water. The idea that the water is a finite resource to be conserved and protected is not yet universally perceived. Generally fresh water is respected as a giver of life only in regions of chronic shortage. Thus the effective use of water resources has become a vital problem for all countries.

In many areas, water is regulated and distributed by governments. However, government control isn’t always in the best interests of all people. In the 1930s, to irrigate cotton fields, the Soviet government created canals to divert the rivers that fed the Aral Sea (located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan). As a result, the surface area of the sea has shrunk by more than 50 percent and its volume by 80 percent over the past 50 years

Some regions have privatized their water distribution, which has often led to conflict. When foreign companies took over Bolivia’s water system, the cost of water became too expensive for the poor. In the city of El Alto, “the cost of getting a water and sewage hook-up exceeded a half-year’s income at the minimum wage”. The 2000 revolt, called the “Bolivian Water Wars,” led to martial law and 100 injuries. After both incidents, the Bolivian government canceled the private company contracts.

When the system is considered as a whole with all components, a high number of feasible decision alternatives makes the problem very complex.

Providing clean water at relevant quality and quantity is a challenge that regulatory authorities have to face in metropolitan cities that seem to develop at their limits of sustainability. Istanbul strives to face such a challenge for its population of over 10 million, through six surface water resources.

Nearly all of Istanbul’s drinking water (97%) comes from surface water collected in reservoirs. Its most important water sources are the Omerli-Darlik system on the Asian side and the Terkos-Alibeykoy system on the European side. Both systems consist of dams, reservoirs, water treatment plants and pipelines. Many of the reservoirs that supply Istanbul are located within the metropolitan area and are exposed to pollution from settlements without adequate sanitation. Water quality is theoretically controlled by conservation zones around the reservoirs which limit construction and industrial activities in four concentric buffer zones with increasingly strict regulations the closer the zones are to the reservoirs. However, there is litte enforcement of these regulations in the face of rapid and often unplanned urbanization. Illegal settlements sprang up around the reservoirs, fueled by land speculation. Subsequently they became de facto legalized with their own municipal administrations elected mayors.

Istanbul water supply system is currently being operated by the Istanbul Water and Sewage Authority (ISKI) with empirical methods. These trial and error methods based on past experiences cannot solve the long term operation problem of the system as was seen in the drought periods of the last two decades where the inhabitants suffered serious water shortages. Planning new resources as soon as a similar crisis arises is generally a high priced, non- feasible and premature decision. Primarily the operation policy of the system must be optimized for the present conditions. It is seen from the results of this study that an operating rule based on the system concept can provide a considerable increase in the yield of the water supply system. It can be concluded that if the Istanbul water supply system had an optimum dynamic operating rule, the crisis would not be so terrifying.

However, given the growth of Istanbul, additional water resources were still needed. Therefore the Melen System is being developed to cover the long term water demand of İstanbul. The first stage supplying 268 million m3 was completed in 2007 with Japanese financing. A second and third stage are expected to bring a total of 1,180 billion m3 for all three phases to meet the water demand of the city until the year 2040, doubling the amount of water supplied prior to the Melen system.

Although the data do not indicate a clear declining trend in rainfall, extreme events – especially droughts – seem more pronounced than in the past. In 2006, rainfall of 67 mm was the record low for the previous 50 years, a period during which the average was 257 mm per year. Furthermore, the water level in reservoirs serving the city plummeted to around 25% of full capacity in 2007 and 2008. ISKI, using a scenario of a 2°C temperature increase by 2030, estimated that the city’s water supply may decline by as much as 14% over the next two decades because of higher evaporation from reservoirs-

Aditional links:

David bollier on Water and Land as a Commons (podcast). A look at property rights as applied to land and water, and how certain commons-based approaches such as New Mexican acequias avoid the adverse consequences of market enclosure. Readings by Eric Freyfogle, Maude Barlow, Adam Davidson-Harden and Jose A. Rivera


One comment

  1. Pingback: A Primavera do Direito à Cidade | Prof. Chico Marchese

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