Examining Water as an Economic Issue


Water is one of the most important commodities because this natural resource sustains all life on planet earth. Water provides a number of economic and environmental services. It’s unique in the sense that nothing else can substitute for it. Unlike other natural resources water not only has distinctive physical properties, but it has complex economic characteristics and cultural features. Therefore it can be easily understood that water, and especially potable water, serves as an integral aspect of today’s demanding and ever-expanding society. Although it is typically overlooked throughout the United States, (despite areas that have experienced significant water shortages due to contamination, drought, or a myriad of other situations) examining the key forces at play in modern economic ideology (with regards to water) provides crucial insight into the desperate actuality of the world’s most precious resource. This discussion will focus specifically on such economic relations in Oklahoma including the scarcity of water as a resource, the importance of understanding an applicable market response model, and the representations of water as a good.

There are a number of forces that are exerting pressure on this commodity. As of now and in the future, there will be an imbalance between the supply and demand of water all across the nation. Oklahoma is just one example of the unequal distribution of water. There is a geographic divide in Oklahoma where there are parts that have plentiful amount of water, while others are quite lacking. According to the Oklahoma Comprehensive Plan, the current demand of water in the central region of Oklahoma is about 335,640 acre-feet/year. This accounts for about 18% of the total statewide water demand. In order to meet the current demand the water is retrieved from bedrock groundwater, alluvial groundwater and surface water. Pretty soon, alluvial and bedrock groundwater storage depletion is bound to happen. Practices to mitigate these depletions include expanding the “…conservation activities in the Municipal and Industrial, Self-Supplied Residential and Crop Irrigation demand sectors” (Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan). The increase in demand for water occurs due to population growth, agriculture, industry, and other related economic activities. In terms of water supply stress Oklahoma is between 0.1 to 0.2, which is pretty low. The panhandle of Oklahoma displays a slightly higher water supply stress between 0.3 to 0.6 (National Climate Assessment). We can apply the market response model to water scarcity in order to determine the “…economic responses to resource scarcity [which] will result in either a decrease in demand for that resource or an increase in supply” (Paul Robbins, John Hintz, Sarah A. Moore, Wiley-Blackwell). The market response model is a great way to to understand the interactions between a resource and the market.

As the model aids people in seeing the interactions between mixed variables, it becomes rather important to understand how this directly applies to water. According to an estimation from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it is predicted that at the world’s “current consumption rate, this situation will only get worse. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortage” (Water Scarcity). Therefore it can be determined that water will indeed eventually face resource scarcity, and as the market response model suggests, prices will rise resulting in the decrease in demand or increase in supply. If you haven’t yet determined why this is so alarming and unavoidably results in an impending detrimental scenario, consider the application of the model: Prices will rise as water becomes more difficult to access and utilize, but there cannot be a decrease in demand, nor an increase in supply. Unless an adaptation in some form of technology to increase the supply, water will definitely crash the market response model, resulting in a significantly unfortunate situation for both humanity and all ecosystems alike.

As previously discussed, water is both an essential and scarce commodity. These two characteristics combined lead to a resource that many think as plentiful to be misallocated. This begs the question: is water a public good or a private good? First, we must define public and private goods. A private good is defined as “a product that must be purchased to be consumed, and its consumption by one individual prevents another individual from consuming it. A good is considered to be a private good if there is competition between individuals to obtain the good and if consuming the good prevents someone else from consuming it” (Investopedia). A public good, on the other hand, is “generally open for all to use and cannot be consumed by one party to the detriment of another party’s ability to also use it…preventing the use of the good by another is not possible” (Investopedia). Concerning water, there is tension between these two definitions as water is necessary for sustaining life, yet also a commodity. According to the Global Water Forum, “after basic water needs have been satisfied, additional water use is no longer a basic human right. Households, for example, may use water to fill a swimming pool, water their lawns, or take long showers. As such, when water use exceeds around 50-100 litres per person per day, it becomes a private good and so is best allocated, like other private goods, through markets” (White). Here, one can see the tension of water as a marketable commodity that also acts as an essential element of life. Water is unique in that it has elements of a public good – it is hard to completely exclude someone from the use of water. However, due to socioeconomic gaps, the use of water is not distributed to people evenly, as different socioeconomic groups use water in different ways and in different levels of consumption. Water also clearly has elements of a private good, as the use of water to wash your dishes excludes another from use of that water to brush their teeth. Since water can lie somewhere between a private and public good, “these characteristics mean that water is not a traditional marketable good and markets can lead to poor allocations of water resources if designed badly” (White). Thus, after analysis, it’s evident that water lies somewhere between a public and a private good. It therefore goes without saying that Norman and Central Oklahoma’s problem with lack of clean water further complicates issues that arise from markets improperly allocating water resources.

From a broader approach, it is apparently quite difficult to pinpoint solutions along with these mentioned issues. Water, although easily disregarded now, will eventually become a problem of immense severity. Analyzing this environmental scenario from an economic perspective truly exemplifies mankind’s remarkable ability to abuse resources of the earth, even those as vital as water. Fortunately, technological advances provide hope for future continuity, but lifestyles and typical ideals of many will have to change.



Global Change. “National Climate Assessment”. Web. Accessed 18 April 2017. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/water-supply/graphics/water-stress-u-s

Investopedia. “Private Good”. Web. Accessed 18 April 2017. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/private-good.asp#ixzz4ec3THoMk

Layden, Logan. “Oklahoma City Drought Problems A Microcosm of the State’s Water Crisis”, State Impact NPR. 16 February 2015. Web. Accessed 18 April 2017. https://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma/2015/02/16/oklahoma-city-drought-problems-a-microcosm-of-the-states-water-crisis/

Oklahoma Water Resource Board. “Central Watershed Planning Region Report”. Web. Accessed 18 April 2017. http://www.owrb.ok.gov/supply/ocwp/pdf_ocwp/WaterPlanUpdate/regionalreports/OCWP_Central_Region_Report.pdf

Robbins, Paul, John Hintz, and Sarah A. Moore. Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley Et sons, 2014. Print.

White, Chris. “Understanding water markets: Public vs. Private Goods”, Global Water Forum. 27 April 2015. Web. Accessed 18 April 2017. http://www.globalwaterforum.org/2015/04/27/understanding-water-markets-public-vs-private-goods/

Water Scarcity. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2017, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity
Image from: http://www.energydigital.com/sustainability/us-energy-policys-hidden-water-costs

Addressing Ethics in Norman Water


When discussing the quality of both potable and sourced water supplies in Norman, few arguments are more relevant than the ethical dilemma presented therein. That is, in this ever-necessary confrontation between the existence of humans and nature, whether a particular action toward nature can be considered justifiably ‘right’ or condemnable and wrong. A substantial issue with this anthropomorphized dilemma, however, is just that: To its roots, any discussion contemplating right or wrong action toward nature is approached through biased and errored human thought. Therefore, any particular individual can see a similar issue from a completely different perspective. The discussion involving acquiring water in Norman can be approached from multiple perspectives, but the following are particularly insightful. First, it is hard to deny a human interest in protecting the health of all the people so dependent on the vitality of potable water. However, the detrimental aspect to this argument lies within the situation of quality control. Whether the responsibility of maintaining safe conditions for any such environmental impact on human health is with government officials, or independent contractors (most likely instituted by the government), a great deal of money must be spent to ensure nothing less than proper and appropriate conditions exist. In a capitalistic society, however, unfortunate shortcuts frequently entail any path that will permit less expenditure. Furthermore, effects of increasing population and the risks and hazards of potential alternative sources must be considered. Water cannot just be considered in light of here-and-now consumption, but must also be approached with respect to the future. There is no better understanding than that offered in Environment and Society, in which authors Robbins, Hintz, and Moore convey the integral notion that as humans, we must understand the ethics of sustainability, or that “we have a moral obligation to sustain the quality and productivity of the environment for future generations” (191). While applicable to many environmental issues, the acquisition of potable water will undeniably be ever-important. This imperative sense of such ethics will emanate throughout the following discussion.

The effects of unregulated contaminants in the Norman water supply go far beyond just the taste, smell, and feel of the water. Two unregulated contaminants that Norman water particularly has a problem with are chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium) and lead. These two contaminants pose a serious risk to residential health in Cleveland County. Cleveland County’s drinking water currently contains the highest levels of chromium-6 of any other county in the state of Oklahoma. Most of the known health impacts of chromium-6 are related to the inhalation of the chemical, but recently strong data has linked the ingestion of chromium-6 to severe health effects. In reference to the health effects of chromium-6, an article on the Clean Water Action website stated, “In addition to cancer and reproductive harm, short and long-term exposures can lead to eye and respiratory irritation, asthma attacks, nasal ulcers, dermal burns, anemia, acute gastroenteritis, vertigo, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, convulsions, ulcers, and damage or failure of the liver and kidneys.”  These possible health effects of chromium-6 display how imperative it is that Cleveland County get these potentially dangerous levels of chromium-6 under control. The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level of 100 ug/l for the total chromium level in drinking water sources. This maximum contaminant level is not for chromium 6 (hexavalent chromium), but for the overall chromium content including all three main types of chromium found in water sources, chromium, chromium 3, and chromium 6.

While the research on the health effects of chromium-6 in drinking water are not confirmed yet, we are certain about the residential health hazards that lead in drinking water can lead to. In the previous blog post, we discussed a study in 2015 that found over 60 water samples that contained lead and copper. The EPA limits the amount of lead in water to 15 micrograms per liter. Norman water barely met this mark and will be monitored by the Department of Environmental Quality every three years. Despite meeting this mark, it is still extremely important to understand the health effects that lead in drinking water can have on a community. Flint, Michigan is a great example of a city that has endured the effects of lead in their drinking water. Thousands of children have been exposed to this toxic substance in Flint, as the water supply is still unsafe to drink. Young children are more vulnerable to experiencing the effects of lead in drinking water because a dose that may not effect an adult may have a significant effect on an infant or a child. Alexandra Ossola from Popular Science states, “When cells in the brain absorb lead, it tends to affect the frontal cortex, the area responsible for abstract thought, planning, attention, and the hippocampus, essential to learning and memory.” This results in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, and anemia. Lead is not only harmful to small children and infants, but it can have negative effects on adults as well. Adults exposed to lead may suffer from reproductive issues as well as high blood pressure. Lead is also known to have negative impacts on kidney functions in adults. Exposure to high doses of lead in drinking water have also led to impaired hearing as well as impaired functions of red blood cells. These health effects demonstrate how important it is that Norman continues to eliminate all lead from their water supply.

It’s important to understand that by 2060 the population of Norman will reach approximately 200,000. This is about double the current population according to Hampton. As stated before, Norman gets its water supply from three main sources. Lake Thunderbird provides about 70% of the water supply, 27% comes from the groundwater wells (Garber-Wellington aquifer), and the other 3% comes from Oklahoma City for emergencies. There have been 2040 and 2060 strategic water supply plans that had listed a number of possible water resource alternatives. These alternatives were based on the “…quality, location, storage capacity, yield, cost, policy, etc” (Norman Utilities Authority). For the most part, Norman could use existing sources and consider new regulations and yield. Another option would be to find outside water sources. For example Norman could purchase water in bulk from Oklahoma City. This idea has come into discussion numerous times by the community. One of the main reasons why this plan has been rejected is due to financial reasons. Another option would be to receive bulk raw water from southeastern Oklahoma, Scissortail Reservoir, Kaw Reservoir, and etc. Tom Kovach stated that the plan had the potential to cost millions of dollars and would incorporate a number of legal issues. Other reasons to not go through with the plan was that it wasn’t environmentally sustainable (Cannon).

Although there is clearly a need for Cleveland County to find a cleaner water source, there are also hazards and risks associated with finding and using new sources. In 2014, the city of Norman adopted a plan that involves the reuse of Norman’s wastewater. This process is also known as indirect potable use. In this process, wastewater would be treated for contaminants discussed earlier such as arsenic and chromium-6. After treating the water, it will be re-released into Lake Thunderbird, allowing it to continue to be a source of drinking water for Cleveland County. This plan, however, comes with political opposition. Midwest City, which also sources drinking water from Lake Thunderbird, opposes the plan to reuse wastewater, as it does not want to risk adding “contaminants of emerging concern” to drinking water (Hampton) . Contaminants of emerging concern, according to the EPA, include chemicals that people wash down their drains daily from pharmaceuticals and personal care products. The Midwest City Council fears that treatment centers would not be able to fully discard the water of these unregulated contaminants, risking unknown health issues to residents. Despite disagreements between the cities, the city of Norman continues to claim that the health of its residents is top priority, and that if the plant was not environmentally sound and safe, that they would not move forward.

For now, Norman’s plan for indirect potable reuse is “a decade away from being implemented and would have to be thoroughly vetted first”, according to Norman’s Utilities Director Ken Komiske (Cannon). Norman City Council has a goal to implement indirect potable use by the year 2025, after several tests and studies to ensure safety. This proposed solution to central Oklahoma’s water issues is a great example of the risks and hazards with “the unknown-unknown”, and how as we advance technologically as a society, we open ourselves up to risks from the new technology.






Cannon, Jane. “Norman’s Long-Term Water Solution Relies Heavily on Water Reuse.” NewsOK.

28 June, 2014. Web. Accessed 4 April, 2017.


Hampton, Joy. “Norman Discusses 2060 Strategic Water Supply Plan” Norman Transcript. 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 4 April, 2017.






Norman Utilities Authority. “Planning for Water Reuse” Aug. 2014. Web. Accessed 4 April,

  1. http://envirofdok.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Ken-EnvirFedofOkla-8-14.pdf

Cannon, Jane. “Norman, Midwest City disagree on viability of water reuse study”. NewsOK. 2

May 2015.  http://newsok.com/article/5415662


Hampton, Joy. “Augmentation of Lake Thunderbird with Treated Wastewater is Years Away”. 30

April 2016. Web. Accessed 4 April 2017. http://www.normantranscript.com/news/government/augmentation-of-lake-thunderbird-with-trea




Robbins, Paul, John Hintz, and Sarah A. Moore. “11.” Environment and Society: A Critical

Introduction. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley Et Sons, 2014. 191. Print.

Image from: http://www.cawater-info.net/all_about_water/en/?p=2115

A Background of Norman Water

140521_LakeThunderbird.jpg(Image from: kgou.org)

One of the world’s key natural resources is water. Often times water is taken for granted because people assume that it’s an abundant resource; however, this is not the case. Being able to access freshwater has become much more complicated in the last couple of decades due to a number of varying reasons. Now, more than ever, we must worry about not only the quantity of water, but also the quality of water. The city of Norman has had a history of water problems as it’s water holds a number of unregulated contaminants. Norman gets its water from three sources: Oklahoma City, Lake Thunderbird, and a well field. Although nothing is perfect, some deficiency or inherent problem exists within many of the area’s water supply sources causing far less than optimal conditions.

According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, “Cleveland County’s drinking water contains the highest levels of of chromium-6 of any other county in the state [of Oklahoma]”. Rebecca Sutton, an environmental chemist who participated in Environmental Working Group’s study, believes that Norman’s high levels come from heavy metal erosion into the Garber-Wellington aquifer (Tyree). Chromium-6 is a carcinogenic chemical. It is a rare form of chromium because it’s produced by industrial processes (Scutti). The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet set a clearly defined limit of Chromium-6 in drinking water. The EPA has stated that Chromium-6 can cause skin reactions if there’s enough exposure. According to the OU Daily, Cleveland County’s average amount of Chromium-6 was 29.59 parts per billion. The city of of Norman contains approximately 39.3 ppb. To put these numbers into perspective, the state of California has a limit of .02 ppb (Creager). What’s even more shocking is that the drinking water holds 100 ppb of Chromium-6. The exact severity of it’s effect is not yet determined, as discussion amongst people continues to understand the extent of this possibly detrimental concern. However, it is deemed important enough that several programs have been implemented to transform Chromium-6 into a known non-toxic Chromium-3.

It’s important to note that the city of Norman has had other concerns arise, including lead and copper concerns. In 2015 there was a collection of more than 60 water samples for lead and copper. Surprisingly enough the results were below the allowable amount. With these findings, the Department of Environmental Quality proposed to monitor only every three years (Norman Utilities Authority). Even though there are always rising concerns from the community, Norman has made it a priority to improve the water quality of Norman. According to the 2015 Consumer Confidence Report, the Norman Water Treatment Plant was working to make advances by updating equipment and improving chemical safety. In addition, there was a focus to improve the infrastructure in the central part of Oklahoma.

In a recent article in Red Dirt Report, Olivier Rey discusses the poor quality of the area’s Lake Thunderbird water supply. Near the end of 2016, a city council meeting was held to address this issue. Lynne Miller, the mayor of Norman, exemplified the disparity of this issue. Other prevalent individuals, such as Derek Smithee, the Water Quality Division Chief and Amanda Nairn, a representative of Norman’s Environmental Control Advisory Board, were also present at this meeting. According to Smithee, both the current and historical aspect of this deleterious situation is due to the existing watershed, or the runoff water from the local areas into the lake itself. Furthermore, this impending situation is simple and easily overlooked; the quality of water in Lake Thunderbird cannot be great if the water entering the lake is collecting bacteria and toxins such as chemicals and debris from litter and other unnatural resources along the way. Fortunately, this then provides a vast opportunity for improvements. According to an article written by Payne and Stipek, the City of Norman has a plan to reduce the amount of pollutants that go into Lake Thunderbird, which would aid in the  improvement in the water quality for Norman residents. The plan would happen in a five-year time period with a cost of about $1.45 million dollars. The other integral component known as bacteria, however, is not so simple. As Rey noted from the meeting, Smithee pointed out the most prevalent addition of bacteria into the lake results from wildlife. Furthermore, differentiating from the many possibly contaminated sources proves daunting to hopes of providing a solution. There has also been a recent dust removal with the intention of cleaning up the appearance of Lake Thunderbird. Ironically, in clearing the color of the water more sunlight is able to penetrate to greater depths which provides an, “optimal condition to algae proliferation” which is important because “blue algae are toxic and very dangerous for humans” (Rey). Nonetheless, such a history involving the degradation of a large and imperative water source was bound to result in a continuity of inopportune and harmful conditions.

Interestingly, however, the noticeably putrid smell and taste of Norman water is indeed a normal occurrence that peaks semi-annually, or normally twice a year with the change of the cold seasons. The cause of displacing the water, known as a ‘turning over,’ is a phenomena exhibited by many large bodies of water, and it is not bizarre or unusual. This is a matter of simple physics, as cold water is more dense than warm water, and therefore when the surface water is chilled, it becomes more dense and has a tendency to sink. The sinking water causes the now-warmer water below to rise which results in the lake’s ‘turning.’ In mixing up the lake’s water, all of the settled things contributing to the quality of the water are dispersed throughout. Even more intriguing, however, is the claim that this natural process involving many seemingly unnatural water ingredients is unharmful to human or animal consumption, as presented by Paighten Harkins in the OU Daily. The article discusses the prevalent issues to the many Norman residents with a goal to prevent an uprising of community disgust or fear. However, also presented in this article is the fact that, “[a]lgae blooms and weather are two factors contributing to the water’s stronger-than-average taste and odor” and a key individual noted in the report, “doesn’t know the specific type of algae that bloomed in Lake Thunderbird” (Harkins). As proven above, there are indeed specific types of algae quite toxic to consume, but Harkins’s more dated article declares the algae exposed during the ‘turning’ is no such harmful algae. However, as the detrimental contamination of Lake Thunderbird’s water suppliers continue, the impending fear of the development of harmful algae in the upcoming ‘turnings’ becomes ubiquitous.

Norman is one of many areas around the United States that suffers from serious water issues. Norman’s history of poor water supply clearly runs deep, not only in sense of time, but also with the amount of issues. The combination of high chromium levels, lead and copper deposits, and the proliferation of algae in Lake Thunderbird have created a cocktail of sorts that leads to the daily complaints Norman residents have about the taste, feel, and smell coming out of their faucets. Hopefully by bringing awareness to the community and time, even more active steps will occur in order to find solutions to improve the quality of water in Norman for the benefit of all residents.


Work Cited

Creager, Daisy. “Study shows that Norman drinking water contains high levels of chromium-6.”

OU Daily. Accessed March 05, 2017



Harkins, Paighten, and Taste and Smell of Norman Water Affected by Turning of Lake

Thunderbird, The Oklahoma Daily. “Taste and Smell of Norman Water Affected by Turning of Lake Thunderbird.” OUDaily.com. N.p., 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

Norman Utilities Authority. “2015 Consumer Confidence Report”.



Payne, Erick, Stipek, Joey. “City of Norman plans to improve water quality of Lake

Thunderbird” https://ounightly.com/2015/11/23/city-of-norman-plans-to-improve-water-quality-of-lake-thunderbird/

Rey, Olivier. “Water Quality of Lake Thunderbird Still Very Bad, Norman Mayor Says.” Red

Dirt Report. N.p., 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

Scutti, Susan. “New reports finds “Erin Brockovich” chemical in US drinking water”


Tyree, James.”Norman’s water level of chromium-6 is 200 times California’s proposed limit”. NewsOK. http://newsok.com/article/3525174

We’re Just Thirsty

dirtywater.jpgEvery summer, thousands of young students arrive in the great city of Norman eager to begin a new journey at The University of Oklahoma. The excited freshman settles into their dorm room, and is likely thrilled, and possibly a little nervous, as to what their future of independence may bring once Mom or Dad finally leaves. However – all too soon – something horrible happens. The college-budgeted, or possibly environmentally responsible, individual approaches their sink, cup in hand, to procure a drink of water. The cup is filled, decently cold, and immediately following a big thirst-quenching gulp the unfortunate epiphany occurs: Norman water is awful. As many people who frequent this otherwise wondrous city will attest, local unfiltered tap water is atrocious and the taste seems borderline non-potable. A simple question resonates among those coming from other U.S. regions, and those that have called Norman home for years: Why can’t this water just be normal?

The grievances about Norman water go beyond just the “taste” of the water itself. The poor quality of the water has forced many students at the University of Oklahoma to seek out alternate sources of drinking water. The primary alternate source that students tend to use is plastic bottled water. Many students choose to drink bottled water over the Norman tap water because of the certainty that what you are drinking is entirely uncontaminated. While many students drink bottled water, very few of us dispose of the empty plastic bottles in an environmentally friendly way. Another alternate source would be water filters. Even though filtration is an effective type of water treatment and purification, often time there is only partial removal of drinking water contaminants depending upon the type of water filter used. Additionally, between production and packaging, these means of water consumption create environmental strain through excess waste. OU has made the move to add more water filtration systems for students to refill water bottles, however these systems are few in number compared to the number of campus buildings. If Norman’s quality of water was improved, it is likely that many students would switch back to tap water, reducing their overall ecological footprints.  

While visiting Tulsa, tap water is now regarded as a splendid gift, or an uncommon blessing. Bottled water is unnecessary and the overall quality of the water is often taken for granted. Upon returning to Norman, the disappointing reminder awaits. The first shower back in town is commenced with a rather peculiar smell and soft, happy skin will soon feel rougher and slightly irritated. At a local restaurant, if the establishment’s soda machine utilizes the region’s unfiltered water, an unpleasantly pungent taste is noticed with the first sip. And in one’s living quarters, bottled or heavily filtered water is once again integral to everyday life. Let’s face it: the Norman community has been exposed to unclean water for years. It’s time that we take action. Fixing these water issues will ensure the Norman community access to clean safe drinking water and protect the public health of all individuals. If we don’t take action now, the issues will continue to develop and worsen.

The following discussions throughout blogs in the upcoming weeks will address this disconcerting reality with specific regards to the region’s source of water, why it is tastes “off,” and if there exists a reason for health concern with its consumption. Furthermore, ecological, economic, and environmental impacts will be evaluated such as significant utilization of bottled water, the association of inherent risks and hazards, and the possibility of political economic relevance.


image from: http://water-313.wikispaces.com