U.S. Markets closed

California water fight raises free market issues

Is water a commodity like oil and gold?

That’s the question being raised in California, where a nasty four-year-long drought has led the state to put restrictions on usage, requiring some areas to cut back by 36%.

That’s raised the hackles of some residents in the wealthier parts of the state, who argue if you pay for it, you should be able to use as much water as you like. The Washington Post spoke with some of those living in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe who are upset the new regulations could allow water providers to limit the flow to those who use more than the prescribed amount of H2O.

Yahoo Finance Columnist Rick Newman says the definition of water is not an issue a lot of people in the U.S. have had to deal with.

“It’s something we take for granted in a lot of the country, everybody gets water, as much as you need,” he notes. “But like any commodity, when it’s scarce, suddenly you have to answer these questions-- Is it a public good, everybody should have access to it more or less equally, or is it a commodity?”

Newman believes the answer in California will be-- it’s both.

“Everybody is going to have the right to some water,” he says. “The argument here is whether some people can get a lot more water. And I think they will if they pay for it. We’ll be seeing water traded as a commodity.”

Get the Latest Market Data and News with the Yahoo Finance App

However, Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer believes it still won’t be exactly like other commodities.

“You can buy as much gasoline as you want in the state of California-- money is no object,” he points out. “You can buy as many diamonds as you want in the state of California-- money is no object. But this commodity, water, is so precious that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you are going to be limited.”

Newman feels those limits-- and the challenges to them-- will go a long way to determining the way water is viewed.

“That’s how this is going to be tested,” he argues. “Is this something you buy and sell on the free market?”

Meantime, Serwer has a water-saving suggestion for Southern California residents.

“All these people using non-native plants,” he complains. “If you just let cacti grow all over your yard in Rancho Santa Fe-- which probably originally lived there-- you’re not going to use much water.”

And Newman has an even better way to cut back on water use.

“Artificial landscaping is a thing now,” he notes.

More from Yahoo Finance
Netflix's marketing turns 'Orange' into gold
Inflation is making a comeback
Oil is over
Jeb Bush will raise a bundle of money.  Here's where it will come from.