29 July 2009

Better than Water Budgets

SJ asks:
The Irvine Ranch Water District's water budgeting scheme [which is gaining popularity in other water districts; see this post] sounds pretty cool and complicated (like the tax code)... is this approach too complicated or is it fair?
IRWD gives each household a "water budget" based on the number of people in the house, the size of the lot, the amount of landscaping, the time of year, etc. Households that stay within their budgets have a lower water bill than households that are wasteful -- "spending" more than their allocation.

Although IRWD's scheme is an improvement on increasing block rates, which are WAY better than uniform rates or flat rates (all you can eat), they are not as good as my "some for free; pay for more" scheme for water pricing.

Why? Because water budgets are:
  • Too complicated. Nobody can understand how they are calculated, except to trust that the engineers at IRWD have got their formula right. For the engineers, of course, water budgets are a form of porn -- a exciting toy for those who want to calculate evapotranspiration from satellites, etc.

  • Non-comparable. It's hard to compare your use/budget to your neighbors.

  • Unfair. The formula allocates water to lawns, but not other "wasteful" use (e.g., washing the car). I prefer that ALL allocations (the width of each block) be based on the number of people at the meter. That way, each residence gets a cheap allocation for human uses, and a proportional amount for extra and wasteful use -- whatever that use may be.

  • Un-sustainable. Why allocate cheap water for lawns in a region that needs to import water? In the long run, we are going to a per capita allocation. Why not move there now?

  • Wasteful for commercial customers. Allocations based on historic use do not encourage conservation among customers that were wasteful in the past. I prefer my ahistoric system
Bottom Line: IRWD's water budgets are a temporary step on the way to an equitable and efficient system of water pricing. Budgets were politically-acceptable when water shortages were mild, but changing times -- a growing gap between supply and demand -- make it both possible and necessary to move to a system that's sustainable in the long run.

1 comment:

Texas Ann said...

This seems very strange to me, although with the worries about the depletion of the Ogallala, it may be coming here to the Texas Panhandle.

Groundwater management ideally puts people on a water budget. For example, each ground water mangagement district sets a goal of desired future conditions, and then sets a depletion allowance based on that DFC. right now, though, these allowances don't promote conservation, merely controlled depletion.