Global warming and boiling water

What is the economic cost of a boil water advisory for two million people in Vancouver? (Ironically, it has been raining a lot – but households and businesses cannot easily capture it.) How about the cost of restoring power to a hundred thousand homes after a freak storm? Or the cost of sandbagging properties on the coast to prevent a high tide during a storm from flooding waterfront homes. And what about the costs to residents up the Fraser River, where there was major flooding a few weeks back?

These are local examples of the types of questions asked by Stern Review on the economics of climate change, which found that the costs of doing something are much much less than the costs of business as usual. Still, I stumbled on a post on Andrew Coyne’s blog that only grudgingly accepted what Stern had to say. The outrageous part was Coyne’s flock, having drunken the Fraser Institute’s kool-aid, commenting that they thought global warming was a socialist conspiracy to overthrow capitalism. (At what stage do denials of global warming become crimes against humanity?)

This article below in the Vancouver Sun (which has notably changed its tune in the past year from denial to acceptance of global warming) points out costs of dirty water, and yet misses the connection to climate change altogether (as is the case for almost every extreme weather story in the news). I cannot prove that any one storm is the direct result of global warming, but consider this: November is Vancouver’s rainiest month, and we are already brushing up against the all-time precipitation record with nine days left to go; and while Vancouver has occassionally had to deal with “turbid” water, we have never had a boil water advisory for the whole city. The result is entirely consistent with what we know about the impacts of climate change.

Dirty water costing us millions


Dirty water flowing through Vancouver taps has cost the local economy millions of dollars, David Park, chief economist for the Vancouver Board of Trade, estimated Tuesday.Park said in an interview the full economic impact of the boil-water advisory remains unknown because it affects every business in different ways and ranges beyond lost revenues and added costs for food-service operations to disruptions in sectors such as dentistry.

… Last Thursday, the GVRD warned two million residents to boil their water or use bottled water after torrential rain triggered dozens of landslides into the region’s reservoirs, turning tap water cloudy and brown. The advisory continues in Vancouver, Burnaby and most of the North Shore.Among the many businesses affected by the boil-water advisory are local dentists, who rely on tap water and do not have separate systems allowing for access to their own distilled water. Many dental offices are using bottled water or have taken other measures to ensure patient safety, according to Dr. Tony Gill.

… The restaurant industry took an initial hit Friday when coffee sales were largely suspended until it was clarified that water heated in coffee machines at sufficient temperatures is safe.The University of B.C., which operates 21 food outlets on campus, including two Starbucks outlets, lost about $14,000 in foregone sales of coffee and spinoffs foods such as muffins, said Andrew Parr, director of food services.

While some restaurants elsewhere have been forced to buy bottled water and hire extra staff, UBC saved money by boiling water in 75-litre vats for washing fruit and vegetables while using existing staff. In addition to supplying its food outlets, UBC must serve 2,550 students on meal plans.

But one company’s problem is another’s economic boom.

Bottled water companies have been working full-tilt to meet demand in Vancouver since the boil-water advisory, confirmed Elizabeth Griswold, executive-director of the Ontario-based Canadian Bottled Water Association.

… The B.C. Restaurant & Foodservices Association … president Ian Tostenson … said the main impact has been the cost of buying bottled water, and hiring extra staff required to prepare food.Some restaurants stopped serving salads and coffee, but customers simply chose other menu items and do not seem to have been discouraged from dining out, he said.

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