District 2 Trustee
"Paradigm shift”, "Sea Change” - gotta love those buzzwords!
Whatever you chose to call it, the water industry is experiencing a slow-moving, but inevitable, fundamental change.
When I first entered this field, over thirty years ago, our mission was clear: Provide as much of the highest quality water at the lowest possible cost as the community required. Ample water supplies were vital in attracting new business and industry. Greater volume water sales spread our fixed costs and reduced water rates. To encourage consumption, we even offered ‘wholesale' water rates to larger customers by means of a decreasing block rate structure. The more you used, the less each additional gallon cost. We took pride in operating our facilities for optimal production and pointed to record high days, months and years with pride.
Things aren't so simple anymore. Led by our brethren in the arid West, and spurred on by the increasingly pervasive environmental consciousness of the populace, we are now in the business of discouraging consumption of our product. Can you think of another industry with such a mandate?
As one who is naturally conservative, educated in the natural sciences, and participated in the first Earth Day, I am in philosophical agreement with this idea. Minimizing waste and our collective ‘footprint' on Mother Earth it the right and responsible course. Work such as our Water Efficiency Committee's recent Water Energy Nexus study illustrates the wider environmental consequences of ‘wasteful' water use. Limiting water loss through leaks has always been a priority for our industry as has ensuring that we meter as accurately as possible. Apart from the environmental benefits of water conservation, there are more direct financial benefits. Our traditional approach has been to periodically increase supply as our community's population and water needs increased. Of course such projects are expensive.
The new wrinkle is the charge that we are given to discourage water consumption. While this is nothing new in California, Nevada and Arizona, to those of us on the shores of the Great Lakes it certainly is.
Public education efforts are always a key element of conservation efforts. Such devices as bill stuffers, toilet dye kits, press releases, web pages, social media ‘tweets' and public service announcements are all employed.
Financial incentives such as toilet and shower head rebates, along with disincentives, tiered or ‘conservation' rates, as well as seasonally adjusted rates and quota/penalty systems, are commonly used.
Because outdoor water use accounts for the majority of discretionary water use, most water conservation plans also incorporate irrigation restrictions. These range from the simple time of day and odd/even schedules to requirements that irrigation systems employ sophisticated soil moisture sensors and restricting spray patterns to avoid paved surfaces.
Implementation of any of these presents a new set of challenges to the water utility. We don't have the budgets nor expertise to mount an effective public education campaign. To a lesser degree, the same is true of conservation rates. While we all have experience in water rate development and implementation, the conservation rate is a challenge. On the face of it, these seem straightforward and logical. But, as always, the devil is in the details. If your utility does not read meters monthly, and cannot readily differentiate single family homes from multi family, commercial, industrial, institutional and non-profit customers, implementation of a new increasing block ‘tiered' rate structure will be quite difficult. Crafting a rate structure that will inspire conservaton while ensuring adequate revenue to operate the utility, and which apportions the marginal costs of peak water production to those who are driving that demand, is no small task.
Difficult as this new direction is, it is inevitable. There is a whole Alphabet Soup of organizations that have taken up the cause of water conservation including AWE, WaterSense, Water – Use It Wisely, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Public Interest Research Group, Center for Neighborhood Technology, National Environmental Trust, Alliance for the Great Lakes, The Wilderness Society, River Network, Center On Sustainable Communities – you get the idea! These groups, and many more, represent a powerful and relentless lobby insistent on water conservation.
Fortunately, as we take up this new challenge as AWWA/ISAWWA members, we have at our disposal a wealth of resources both in the way of AWWA publications and web sites and through our community of colleagues.
Related resources are available at:
AWWA Conservation Community: (http://apps.awwa.org/ebusmain/community/conservation.aspx Login required)
ISAWWA Water Efficiency Committee: http://www.isawwa.org/?page=WaterEfficiency&hhSearchTerms=efficiency&#rescol_605435
ISAWWA Conservation Community: http://www.isawwa.org/members/group.aspx?code=conservation