Why San Antonio’s Water Crisis and Housing Expansion are Linked

“You can never do just one thing” – Garrett Hardin

A Conversation in the Park

I was pushing my 4 month old daughter this morning at our local HOA park when a gentleman approached and started talking to me. He lamented about the water crisis and how expensive it is to water … not including the hefty fine the city charges you for watering over one day per week.

He then we to tell me how our neighborhood was just forest five or so years ago and that San Antonio continues to rapidly expand. The expansion is permitted because the city gives out housing permits to builders and other entities to make life livable for the arrival of thousands of families from outside of the state.

While this is good for the local (and perhaps national) economy, this does not come without costs. Every family (mine included) that purchases (or rents) a residence uses resources; e.g., water or road space. The immediate benefit from such consumption is considerable and private; e.g., water for my glass, access to the local shopping centers. But this benefit to me comes at a cost that is spread across many others. The water I use leaves less of it for others, making it more expensive for our water company pipe in or process for others to use (including me) in the future.

The catch is that the marginal cost of me using water is so small to others that they do not notice (nor perhaps care) it was there, BUT when we factor in the thousands of families also using water, the “small” becomes large.

So back to the housing expansion and water shortages. San Antonio wants its economy to grow and it does this by letting more and more people move to and live in the city and the regions round about. But as Garrett Hardin observed “You can never do just one thing.” For every permit given to build a new residence that, in the future, will lead to less water being available (or at least it will become more expensive to supply).

Interestingly, the city laments about its water problem (http://goo.gl/keZzV0).

Hopefully some innovative solutions will emerge to navigate the water problem without increasing costs for the residents.


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