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Governments Encourage Water Waste

By Bruce of Stone Marmot

Aug. 18, 2009

Many parts of the United States are continually suffering from water shortages. Here in the Tampa Bay area, we have been under government imposed water use restrictions for over straight ten years now. There appears to be little chance that this situation will get better in the future.

Why do we have this problem? Mostly because of overpopulation, but few want to admit to this or do anything about it. But also because of the way local governments, who in most areas provide our water, bill us for this water.

For example, this is how I am billed, based on my most recent water and sewer statements, which I receive every other month:

1) $6.00 flat fee per billing period simply for being hooked up to the water system.

2) $4.28 per 1000 gallons of water used.

3) $62.00 flat fee per billing period for being hooked up to the sewer system, regardless of how much sewage I generate, even though this amount of sewage I generate is directly proportional to my water use.

Consequently, based on these rates, I pay an average of $450 a year for water and sewage service for the typically 10,000 gallons of water I use a year. If I used absolutely no water for a whole year, I would still pay $408 a year. Not much difference.

An article earlier this year in the St. Petersburg Times stated that 35 households in the Tampa Bay area use more than 1 million gallons of water a year. The average household in this area uses about 90,000 gallons a year. The biggest user used 6.1 million gallons last year. If this household is billed the same way I am, their bill was about $26,500 last year. This is about 59 times what I paid for 610 times as much water use.

That is how the government encourages water waste. They claim that the more you use, the more you pay. That is true, but this impact is dramatically diluted by these fixed fees. Basically, these fixed fees make the majority of the water and sewer customers subsidize the excessive needs of the few rich and wasteful customers. These fixed fees should be completely eliminated and all water and sewage billing should be directly and solely based on the amount of water used.

For example, the average household in the Tampa Bay area now pays about $800 a year for water and sewer service, assuming they are billed the same way I am. If the fixed fees were eliminated and the water use rates were raised appropriately to compensate for this, the rate per 1000 gallons used would increase from $4.28 to about $8.82. The average household would see negligible change to their water bills. People who seriously conserve water would see big drops in their water bills. This is good as it encourages people to conserve. But big users would see big increases to their bills. For example, the household that used 6.1 million gallons last year would see an approximately $54,000 water bill for the year.

Doesn't it seem so much more fair and logical that what you pay should be directly proportional to what you use? Why don't the local authorities, which talk so much about water conservation, adopt such an obvious policy to conserve water? Here are some potential reasons they don't:

1) The big water users also tend to be rich and politically powerful and buy or pressure for this preferential treatment.

2) The authorities and the big users figure the general public is too mathematically illiterate to figure out and realize how they are subsidizing the rich.

3) The authorities aren't really interested in water conservation but are more interested in social power. Having everyone pay a minimum fee and enforcing the water restrictions gives them more power over the population.

4) The authorities are afraid that people may actually seriously conserve water and there will be less need for their services. They may have to shut down facilities, which would cost them jobs and social power.

Some may complain that making sewer bills directly proportional to water use is not fair since a lot of their water use goes for yard irrigation and does not end up in the sewer system. Well, too bad! You should not be using potable water for irrigation. A significant number of us are able to maintain our yards strictly on rainwater. If you can't you have the wrong plants in your yard for your climate. I'm even able to keep my vegetable garden going through dry spells strictly on rainwater captured in previous months in rain barrels. My suggested billing change will help discourage people from having inappropriate plants in their yards.

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