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James G. Workman

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Award-winning journalist and author of Heart of Dryness, James G. Workman has devoted his life to researching, and to hopefully helping solve, the overriding paradox of our time: Water conservation is, ironically, unsustainable. But, why?

Workman, who served as an advisor shaping national and global policy under US Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Nelson Mandela, addresses this complex riddle in a dramatic and compelling multimedia lecture program.

Program Description

H2Ownership: A Fresh Approach to Unlocking the Three Paradoxes of Water

For all of the loud talk about “efficiency” and “conservation,” natural resource managers are confounded by three profound and deeply entrenched paradoxes when it comes to water: Value, Efficiency, and Monopoly.

Water is priceless in use, and yet worthless in exchange. The more efficiently we use water – drip irrigation, timed sprinklers, low-flush toilets, high-pressure nozzles – the more water we actually use.  And, ironically, saving water eats into utilities’ revenue, forcing them to ‘punish’ conservation by charging more per unit to recover costs.

In his lectures, Workman draws on a decade of experience with the last free Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, who inspired his award-winning book Heart of Dryness, and his new business that translates the Bushmen’s proven coping mechanisms into a Web 2.0, online exchange platform for earning, owning, accumulating and trading water efficiency credits, or EcoShares™.

The resilient Kalahari Bushmen have inspired a bold new approach that is unlocking a more responsible and egalitarian approach to water. H2Ownership replaces top-down rationing and restrictions with secure and equal incentives in which all metered customers can earn, track and exchange water efficiency credits, or EcoShares. This form of creative capitalism can motivate a widespread race to conserve and make today’s vulnerable cities increasingly ‘climate-proof.’

Workman has come to realize that “water scarcity” comes not from a shortage of supply but an excess of demand, and that the real “experts,” the only “water managers” who really matter, are the 6.8 billion untrained end users: the locals – i.e. all of us.

How this works, in practice

Workman anchors water security – and unlocks the paradoxes — via a new yet timeless concept: H2Ownership™. Families and firms no longer must depend on rent-controlled monopolies that unilaterally dictate who deserves how much water for which uses at what rates. Instead, each of us can ‘own’ a virtual and equitably defined and tradable ‘share’ of water. In this way water at last has value in exchange. Efficiency reduces overall use. And scarcity motivates all parties to eliminate waste in a widespread race to conserve.

In pilot demonstration projects in the West, AquaJust™ unlocks water conservation through equitable local ‘click’ markets within a utility’s natural ‘brick-and-mortar’ monopoly. Median accounts who consume all their EcoShares pay nothing; profligates over the threshold pay higher tiered rates. But frugal consumers now earn and accumulate unused shares, tracked on AquaJust, where they can save, donate or sell them to firms or families who want more. The approach replaces rationing and restrictions with fair and voluntary incentives in which all metered customers benefit from choices, conservation incentives, political momentum for raising rates, and AMI technology that can meet their growing demand for real time data and feedback.

Because when we reduce demand we erode revenues needed to improve our water supply. With no choice, competition or incentives to conserve, our ‘natural monopoly’ welcomes overuse yet punishes families and firms who save water. No politician promises voters he’ll deliver higher water, food or energy bills, so we ensure pipes leak and waste worsens. A vicious cycle hardens demand, escalates conflict and erodes trust. Democracy pits water utility vs. customers vs. nature.  This is a battle with no real winners.  A new, enlightened and collaborative solution must be put forward.  With Workman’s example, we may have finally found the answer.