Theme of World Water Day 2021 is valuing water. Photo. Karin Holmgren
Through the WaterPlan project
, researchers from the DRICKS center at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering are investigating what the need to protect our water resources looks like and how Swedes value this protection. Part of the project means that the researchers will use surveys to investigate and map how people prioritize and what they are actually willing to pay to protect our drinking water sources.
"Today knowledge about how Swedes relate to our common water and how to value it is scarce. We know from studies in other Scandinavian countries that people prefer that the water they drink is naturally clean, that it doesn’t need to be purified afterwards. And that is of course important for how the protection of water resources is designed," says Andreas Lindhe,
associate professor and researcher at the DRICKS centre, Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering.
The great value of water in society
Our surface and groundwater resources, ie water in lakes and streams as well as the water under the ground, not only provide us with drinking water but offer people so much more. Our water resources are, among other things, sources for energy production, irrigation and recreation – when we go swimming or boating in the summer.
"By protecting our water resources from a drinking water perspective, we can also protect these other values, so-called services, that they provide, but it can also mean restrictions on how we can use these services."
Therefore, the WaterPlan project also maps and analyzes the various services that water resources provide and the natural conditions on which they depend. The purpose is for researchers to be able to create an overall picture of how we use our water resources and how we thereby value them, as a basis for being able to better prioritize protection measures.
Pricing that does not reflect fair value
DRICKS works closely with Swedish drinking water producers. The industry sees a need to increase water and sewage tariffs in order to be able to maintain and develop drinking water and wastewater management. The Swedish tariff is based on the prime cost principle, which results in a cost that in itself cannot be said to correspond to the actual value of the water and sewage services that we use in society. But what can be the disadvantages of water being underestimated and therefore priced too low?
"The fact that water in Sweden is inexpensive is not a bad thing since we want water to be available to everyone. But the low price of water means that we become worse at economizing it and tend to take it for granted. For a sane management of water, it is therefore bad that water is inexpensive", says Andreas Lindhe.
Water is a prerequisite for life and crucial for our society in many ways. Andreas Lindhe believes that expressing risks and evaluating measures of action based on socio-economic consequences does not aim to reduce the importance of water – but on the contrary provides an opportunity to emphasize the importance of water, for instance when balancing competing interests.
"But we must of course be aware that there are other aspects than the purely socio-economic ones that may need to be considered when important decisions about water are to be made", Andreas Lindhe concludes. The World Water Day is an initiative from the UN that started in 1993 and which draws attention to the importance of water in society. The purpose is to highlight the challenges we face and what is required for us to, among other things, achieve the sixth global sustainability goal of clean water and sanitation for all.
Text: Andreas Lindhe & Catharina Björk