How not to fight a drought

Recently we moved from an apartment to a house. As a result, for the first time since we’ve lived in S. Florida, we are paying for our own water.

When we received our first bill, it seemed a mite peculiar. There was a large “access” fee, while the rate for the actual water consumed was very small. In fact, the cost of the water turned out to be 2.23% of the bill. I’ve asked friends in the area who get water from different utilities, and it turns out that this is the normal billing structure around here.

In normal circumstances, this would be absurd. Given the fact that S. Florida is in the midst of a 2+ year-long drought, it is obscene. Rather than giving customers an incentive to save water, this billing structure gives customers an incentive to waste water; every additional gallon I use is cheaper than the one before, and I will see a minimal to nonexistent decrease in my bill if I act to conserve water.


It’s not that bad where I am, but it still pisses me off that my roommate and I could both stop using water completely and only reduce our bill by 50%.

You could do what we do in CA: When a drought kicks in, fix everyone’s ration based on their past usage. That really encourages conservation during non-drought times! :rolleyes:

Sounds like they’ve been doing in Atlanta. They were short of water, so they encouraged everyone to save water, talking about all the simple ways they could save money on their water bill.

This worked.

The water company then raised rates like they were going out a’ style, with the government’s blessing, of course. Yeah, great incentive. Next time thre’s a problem people just won’t care.

Yup. We’ve been catching the water that used to run down the drain while the shower water was getting hot and using it to flush toilets. We’ve cut our water usage almost 40% in the last six months. What do we get for our trouble?

Higher rates. Sucks, I tell ya.

Well, if the rates were raised based upon the amount of water used, the incentive remains - in fact, it gets stronger.


No, the way I see it working is, you save water, you pay the same amount as if you DIDN’T save. Water bill remains the same, hassle factor and frustration with local government increase dramatically.

But you are precisely missing the point that Sua is making: if they put in place a rate structure that ensured that people who use less, pay less, and that people who use more, pay more, then the incentive to conserve would be increased.

As the example he gives in the OP shows, however, current structures are based on a high flat fee plus low usage rates, which gives consumers basically no incentive to save water. What we need in order to give people the incentive to consume less water is a lower flat fee plus higher usage costs, with usage usage costs possibly rising exponentially above a certain level.

Of course, the overall problem we run into here is that of economics versus conservation. While the water company obviously doesn’t want to run out of water altogether, the fact is that making money is more important to them than supplying (or conserving) water. If a rate structure designed to encourage conservation is likely to reduce their profits in any way, they probably won’t be very interested in implementing it.

No, of course not. That might be logical. Instead, they just slapped a hefty “usage fee” atop the normal water bill, exactly what you condemn.

Or they could just run it like my water company: high access fees AND high usage fees.

You think that’s bad? How about meters on private wells?

Admitted, it’s a propaganda piece but the cites are accurate.

What happened in Colorado was that rates were raised for heavy usage during the drought, everybody public-spiritedly (or miserly) saved water, and then the water boards went crying to the regulators that they weren’t making enough money.

If the ‘water company’ is a municipality (or county government), aren’t they precluded from making a profit?

Seems like I remember that from working at the City. For example, the reason that they can’t give a break on a high water bill resulting from a leak on the customer’s side of the meter is that they can’t ‘give away water’ from a legal standpoint. (They can give a break on the sanitary sewer portion however. ) That makes me think that they can’t ‘make money’ either.

That could be right. I’m not sure of the OP’s situation, nor am i familiar with all of the water distribution models being used in the US.

Water meters have become the norm around here. And they haven’t had a great impact on people’s usage. Quite simply, the cost of running the hose for a few hours is astonishingly small. The idea that meters would encourage people to reduce their wasteful use of water was flawed, failing to take into account the fact that people might just not care about a couple of hundreths of a penny each time they leave a tap running.

It also introduced an added difficulty. In the days of fixed water rates, it was easy to push the concept of saving water as being for everybody’s benefit. Now everyone perceives themselves as buying a private supply, there isn’t this social burden of water shortages, it’s a case of ‘I’m paying for it, aren’t I?’

Nor am I - hence the curiosity.

I live in Albuquerque. Conservation is given heavy lip service. If I were to reduce my current water consumption to zero, my bill would decrease by ~10-15%.

I had a couple of guys in orange vests show up at my door last year. They informed me that I had a leak on my property due to the reading on my meter. They said that if I fixed it, I could get a partial refund from the city. “How much water leaked?” I asked. They told me ONE MILLION POUNDS. “Holy crap! How much is that gonna cost me?” “OH, about 70 bucks.” Seventy bucks, what do you suppose it would cost me to move a million pounds of dirt across the street? Not seventy bucks. So here’s the punchline: Even at that small price, we have reshaped the American west to move water from rural areas to urban ones. Water in the west does not flow down hill; it flows towards money. The price has not changed the behavior of the consumer. It has, however, changed the behavior of the producers. We have destroyed countless natural systems to get the water to the cities. I don’t think anyone is happy with what we have built.

Water comes in pounds out there, not gallons ? :stuck_out_tongue:

Even if it a million pounds, that only 500 cubic meters! :smiley:

Most utilities in the U.S. are organized on a county or locality basis. See, the problem with them is that utilities are absolutely necessary. Because of this, they cannot be allowed to simply decide to stop offering services to some locations. People need drinking water, electricity, etc. However, a company which is forced to provide services everywhere is in a bad position, and is unlikely to even get the capital needed to start.

Because of this, the entire inhabited country was divided up into zones, usually based around a city or town area. Everywhere within that zone is the exclusive monopoly of a given utility, which MUST offer services (people pay their fees). However, the profit margin on the utilities is set by law, usually at around 5% a year (I thin). Utilities investments are considered very safe but are not hugely profitable.

Utilities tend to be none-too-responsive, a bureaucracies build up over time and of course profits are limited anyhow, but most services are reasonably well done (people bitch a LOT if the power or water goes down). Some utilities are deregulated and can get any profit they cann get, but I believe this mostly happens in built-up areas where there’s a reason to keep offering services everywhere.