In a world with a strong water deficiency and without the possibility to produce more. It is at a level where some people die of thirst. How could drinking water usage be regulated? Distribution per person vs. restriction according to purpose, i.e. life support vs. luxury use? Should trading of water be allowed? What about people living in different climate zones. What about people with different physical demand? How to restrict industrial and agricultural use?

TL:DR At what level should the amount of water one human is allowed to drink per day be regulated on a civilization scale?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. I am afraid that "how to regulate the usage of X?" is a highly subjective matter. Just look at what happens when X= guns. Please take a good read at our help center to understand which type of question we take here. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ Wasn't thinking of creating more drinking water, was thinking of possibly altering humanity to be able to tolerate drinking oceanic water if the tech level was better. Actually we might be able to do so right now if ethics and such wasn't blocking us from human experimentation. $\endgroup$
    – Lemming
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ @l.dutch ok, maybe let me rephrase the question to focus more on practical and innovative measures $\endgroup$
    – birneee
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ There is no way to have a real shortage of drinking water as long as Earth still has oceans. The Sun heats up the surface of the ocean, water evaporates, vapor condenses, and rains down as fresh water. Moreover, the current state of the art at sea water desalination is less than 1 USD per cubic meter, or 0.1 US cents per liter. Now, if Earth no longer has oceans, then the problems confronting the civilization are very very much more dire than a mere shortage of drinking water. (And anyway, there have been many civilizations in dry places. How did they do it? What did your research reveal?) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ The amount of water used for (human) drinking is miniscule in comparison to the amount used to grow food plants, so there's not going to be a permanent shortage. If you have to have people living on a desert planet, they need to be genetically modified to conserve water, like for example the kangaroo rat: desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/krat.php $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 19:07

1 Answer 1


I think this question represents a misunderstanding of climate and hydrology. Water is not usually produced and destroyed, it is purified and used and thereby contaminated.

There are serious concerns, in many places of the world, of regional shortages of clean, healthy water for drinking and agriculture. This could be because the water is available but dirty, or because it is regionally not available (think of a desert). If water is no longer available when it used to be there in recent times, it must have stopped coming in (changes in prevailing winds, people upriver taking more out of the river, ...) or it must have increased the outflow (degraded soil unable to hold moisture, flash floods carrying the water away after each rain ...).

One possible approach is to increase the price of water. This assumes most people get water out of metered taps. As it gets more expensive, people change their habits (buy more efficient toilets, take showers instead of bathing in a tub) or industry/agriculture (plant more drought-resilient crops). In theory this could reach a point where the poor die of thirst, but the middle classes being unable to take a shower would force political action at some point.

The other possible approach is to regulate the market and ban certain uses. A couple of years ago, California banned swimming pools. And here are current restrictions.

To produce water, one would oxidize some hydrogen-containing material. To destroy it, the hydrogen must be separated from the oxygen, e.g. by electrolysis. That's not done on a global scale.

  • $\begingroup$ Another possibility is undesirables being murdered in back alleys and their water "reclaimed", should prices spike too high. Murderwater is just $110/liter, get yours before it's gone! $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnO, that was an issue in the Dune novels, but there some spoiler monkeyed with the ecosystem. For a realistic setting, if water is at $300 per gallon or thereabouts, then the place is uninhabitable and there are no undesirables in back alleys. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ "Soon" no undesirables. Except, I suppose, what remains of them being sold from cheap plastic bottles. In Dune, spice was so essential that it could have lacked an atmosphere, and people would still have lived there. Habitability has alot to do with economic incentives. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:15

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