While I was in Chile in 2014 it was a time when some of the first cryptocurrency events started happening and a group of the masters came to speak and hang out at a property investment retreat. One of the advocates who sits on the board of several noticeable companies was saying that his angel investment group was focusing on the “decentralization of all things.” That comment stuck with me.
If you think about what Wikipedia or Uber or Airbnb has done to our economy, you’ll begin to see what I think the point was. It’s not just about ending the Fed.
Project that forward a little more and I can see a world where people have the option to collect and clean water for consumption and distribution or at least the ability to choose where to get their water from. This changes things, right? We have choices available: do we want to input work (time, money, innovation) and get compensated in return, or does it sound nice to have a marketplace available where you can choose what’s best for you? The producer and consumer both win in these new distributed ownership scenarios.
So, as I continue to iron out this whole idea, some of the commenters on the June 14th post have questions I’d like to address. The context is mostly around decentralized water and a current water advisory by the city of Salem where I live.
First I’ll start with a comment from Ted Lemon:
“First, if Salem has a water treatment problem, why isn’t anything being done about it?”
The city of Salem is addressing the problem both with a work around (imported water) and exploring new treatment options for toxins at the source. Number 11 on their FAQ site addresses this question in more detail specifically.
Next I’ll jump to Tiff’s questions:
“I’m really curious to hear how this is possible. Like how do you decentralize water? What would it take? What would people have to do in their homes to make this possible?”
So, since water is a natural resource, at some point we all have to go down to the river to scoop out a few buckets of water to bring back home so to speak. Except we are a little more advanced now so most of the water gets pumped out of underground aquifers. This is better for a few primary reasons: (1) the ground acts as a natural filter for the water and (2) since the source is underground it is harder to contaminate. So the act of decentralizing water is simply for more individuals to figure out how to collect water within the constraints that they have.
When I say “constraints,” it is loaded. There are legal constraints, technical constraints, physical constraints; on and on. We could probably get away with collecting a few buckets of water before someone stopped us but that wouldn’t get us very far if the average daily consumption rate is 90 gallons.
For individual homes the collection could be by rain, extracting water from the air, surface water, the ocean, or a combination of solutions. This will depend heavily on laws within the jurisdiction and the available water sources, coming full circle to the constraints. Next, a water treatment system is needed to further clean the water for consumption. This is where more creativity and innovation will come in. In the case of Salem, if more than just the public municipality were producing clean water, we could go to the next producer with a different water treatment process that may not be experiencing the same issue with cyanotoxins to get clean water. The process might be superior or maybe their source is better, whatever the case is, at least the market would have another option.
And this brings us to the second question from Ted to wrap it up:
“And second, suppose that you were to achieve this decentralized water supply. Doesn’t this mean that now people who can afford to treat their water will have clean water, and everybody else will have no water? Or if you keep the old municipal water system around, but everybody who can afford to opts out of it, doesn’t that mean that it will just keep getting worse, until eventually the water is no longer safe for anybody to drink?”
These are some fantastic points and I’m glad they were brought up. If the theory of decentralization were to work perfectly, everyone would have their own source of water and their own treatment process. In reality this is utopian, but the idea of distributing the asset as much as possible is still a good idea in my opinion. Not everyone has the resources or desire to own a nice enough car to drive for Uber, but it’s still a good option for people to make money or get a ride.
In essence, the idea of using a home to create surplus clean water is no different than what Uber did with vehicles and rides. Homes were chosen specifically because it is where the majority of people already spend most of their money, why not use some of that capital to generate income? On an individual bases we can decide to produce enough clean water and power just for the one home or perhaps offer an alternate water source to a small neighborhood. With more diversity, the market can decide what is most valuable; whether it’s quality, taste, cost, or something else.
The municipal water systems aren’t going away anytime soon. If more individual homes start offering alternatives, beginning with the more wealthy, and the general public becomes under-served, I have a feeling that some enterprising new leader will swoop in to close the gap. Why not? The demand is a given.
P.S. Thank you all for your generous comments and contributions. I ask that you bear with me as this idea gets flushed out. It’s a jumbled mess in my brain and I’m using some of these posts as an outlet to understand it better. If somethings doesn’t make sense, you’re probably right. Keep asking the obvious questions and challenging my ideas, that’s what I need :)