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  • Writer's pictureSteve Hamm

The Water Pivot

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

When it comes to water, we humans face a moral conundrum: Many people believe that access to clean water should be a human right, yet we also recognized that water is a limited resource so it should not be wasted. So how do we set up systems that recognize the value of water and conserve it, but at the same time make it available to people with little ability to pay for it?

Addressing that dilemma is an ongoing project of Pivot Projects’ Water, Waste, and Floods workstream. Members of the group are seeking people with expertise or communities interested in alternative approaches to water management to help develop systems that offer a basic per-household or per-person ration of water for free and then charge for higher-volume use of water. If you want to help out or you want to explore new approached to water management and water pricing in your community, please fill out the form at the bottom of this page.

Today’s Model is Broken

Today’s standard model for water management and pricing is unsustainable. Typically, residential and commercial customers pay low prices for water, which makes it difficult for authorities to fund long-term infrastructure improvements. A lot of money is wasted because of leakage and unnecessary pumping of water from point A to point B. Meanwhile, people pay high prices for clean water in plastic bottles, which burns a lot of energy and produces a lot of waste. In both cases, the true environmental cost of water consumption is not accounted for, resulting in waste and pollution of this essential but finite natural resource.

A 1900s-era pumping operation in a US water filtration plant.

Introducing the Water Pivot

Water pricing must be done with a systems view. All information about water supply, use, and associated costs should be gathered and made transparent. All of the stakeholders in a particular catchment area should have a say in how the water there is priced. A pricing structure should be set that assures every person living in the catchment the water required for the basic human needs of drinking, preparing food, washing, and human waste removal. Prices should increase significantly and on a steadily rising scale for additional water usage and for customers that degrade the quality of the water they use. The full environmental costs of supplying, managing, and treating water should be included in pricing.

Explore the Water Pivot

We have created a visualization of the Water Pivot using the Kumu systems visualization tool. Using your touchpad, you can explore the map to understand the network of ideas that form the pivot from unsustainable use of water to valuing water as a resource for life. The bases of the pivot are five hypotheses that describe how a water system needs to be organized and managed so water can be valued comprehensively and serve the needs of individuals, the economy, and society.

Here's the Kumu map:

Here's the legend for the map:

Engage with Us

Here’s our one-page framework for helping out with public mural projects:

The Water Pivot Framework
Download PDF • 57KB

If you would like our advice on how to develop a public-space project in your community or have advice for us or others, please fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch.

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