Editorial: Why use less if we’ll just pay more?

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Drought, Water Conservation
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Article courtesy of Visalia Times-Delta | January 24, 2014 | Shared as educational material

Water is a really touchy subject around here these days. Either there isn’t enough — as in drought — or it keeps getting more expensive — as in, your rate hike kicks in next month.

Visalia residents are indeed facing the first of three rate increases over the next three years, the result of a proposed rate hike last year by the California Water Service Company that was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. Visalia’s water rates will go up, by 17 percent over the three-year period, but it could have been much worse. Cal Water had requested a 28 percent hike.

But the worst of it? According to Cal Water, we did it to ourselves. The steps residents took to conserve water over the years, as we were asked to do, had actually been so effective that we used far less water than anticipated. That “we” that includes many other districts under Cal Water’s authority, not just Visalia. And because we used less water, Cal Water’s revenues were down, so a rate hike was necessary to keep the stream flowing, so to speak.

Now, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency because this year is likely to be the driest on record. Take that in slowly. Driest. On record. He is also asking us to conserve water.

Now, if anyone in the state understands the importance of water, it’s the farmers and growers of the Central Valley who produce most of the food the entire world eats.

We have a huge stake in this. But conservation? Will that really be in our best interests?

Valley residents are good people. We want what’s best for the state. We care about the drought and what it will do to this economy. But given our past experience with effective water conservation, why would any of us want to heed Gov. Brown’s call to conserve more water if it’s just going to set us up for more rate hikes?

Water legislation

The 2009 Water Conservation Act requires the state to achieve a 20 percent reduction in per capita use by the end of the year 2020; the incremental progress requires an achievement of 10 percent by the end of 2015. Farmers, already good conservators of natural resources, are having to likewise implement their own efficient water management practices. The bill also removes the possibility for state grants or loans to agricultural water suppliers who fail to comply with the conservation requirements.

For individuals, conservation will be no less difficult, particularly once you consider what it would take each of us to achieve a 20 percent reduction in consumption.

Individual consumption

According to Cal Water, the average person in 2007 used 235 gallons of water a day; by 2012 that figure was down to 204, a 13 percent reduction over five years. That’s progress, but how much more can we achieve? Is it realisitic to think that individuals can be effective enough to reverse a drought?

Do we even know what it will take for an individual to achieve a 20 percent reduction? What must one give up?

Cal Water has conservation kits that are available free that include two low-flow shower heads, one hose nozzle, two bathroom faucet aerators, toilet leak tablets and one kitchen faucet aerator. These kits save an average of 4,400 gallons/year which would equal just a 2 percent reduction. At that rate, it would take some time.

Water conservation is important. Of course we should all be good stewards of our natural resources. But we’ve been stung in the past for compliance. So don’t be surprised if the water-using public demands a different solution that doesn’t result in us paying more for using less.

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