The access to freshwater is no longer a right, but rather a luxury.

It is scary to think that the world is running out of freshwater due to climate change and mankind’s influence, but the reality of it is that the world’s aquifers are the lowest that they’ve ever been. And the effects of such water shortages are widespread.

Take the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico. This past month, the local water board announced that its farmers would get only one-tenth of their normal water allotment this year from the Pecos River. As a result, the farmers in the area have demanded a switch from the regional status quo water allocation, an allocation that requires those farther upstream to pump a certain amount of groundwater and pipe it to farmers downstream. Instead, many farmers want a “priority call” on the Pecos River.

The New York Times has labeled this priority call as the “nuclear option” in the world of water. Such a call would force the state to return to the basic principle to water distribution in the West: the lands whose owners first used the water – these lands being mostly farmland – would get first call on it in times of scarcity. What this means is that many small farmers would be winners, while several big industries would be losers.

The threat of the priority call reflects the political impact of the droughts that are now becoming commonplace in the West. Interestingly, the New Mexico state constitution already has a priority call act that states, “First in time…first in right.” However, this priority call has not actually been practiced for over a century. If it were implemented, though, then all the large industries in the area – including the dairy and oil industry – would have no access to freshwater unless they paid large sums of money. Consequently, dairy and gas prices would rise even more sharply than they have in previous months. On the other hand, if the priority call were not instituted, then food prices from all the farmlands in the region would rise just as sharply. Regardless of whether the priority call is enacted, water will not just simply appear – there will only be negative consequences for at least one of the parties involved.

There are no feasible or foreseeable long-term solutions to the world’s water shortages, but we all should be conscious of the fact that freshwater is becoming more precious. It will soon become the center of even more political issues, and who knows, perhaps the necessity of having a constant freshwater supply will reach the importance of finding alternative sources of energy.

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