It is difficult to overstate the importance of water. Water is life: it is essential for our health, for our food to grow, for our communities to function and thrive. Yet, critical issues like affordability and quality are often overlooked and understudied because of the abundance of water in our lives. For most of us throughout the United States, we turn on the tap and water flow freely and cleanly. But our lack of appreciation for water is nothing new: in 1776 (a time when the delivery and supply of water was no easy feat), the “diamond-water paradox” was coined. As the paradox goes:
Nothing is more useful than water: but it will purchase scarce anything; scarce anything can be had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any use-value; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for it.
In other words, although we need water to survive, we take it for granted. This view informed how water law and policy developed in the courts: because water resources have historically been plentiful in this country (particularly on the East Coast), access to water has not traditionally been viewed as a fundamental right in the U.S. and has even been called a “deeply foreign” concept in American jurisprudence.
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