09 May 2014

Their lawns or your drinking water?

A few months ago, I praised Davis's new water tariffs for moving closer (even hitting) my target of matching fixed revenues to fixed costs (and thus variable revenues to variable costs). I even cited them in Living with Water Scarcity.

But opposition to these new prices has emerged recently:
The new water rate structure, called consumption-based,fixed rate (CBFR), is extremely unfair to residents of single-family homes, who will pay much more per gallon of water than other users.[1]

With CBFR, the cost per gallon of water is largely determined by summer water use.[2] This shifts the costs to single-family residents who must irrigate to keep trees healthy and keep Davis green. Maintaining a healthy tree canopy and other urban greenery also removes large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.[3]

If CBFR is not repealed, by 2018 the average homeowner and single-family tenant will be paying almost 40% more than apartment landlords for each gallon of water.[1] Shifting the cost of this expensive new water project onto single-family homeowners and renters is not fair.[4] If a given single-family home uses twice as much water as units without yards, such a unit should pay only twice as much. Under the CBFR system, it will pay substantially more than that.[2]
The first time I read this, I spit my beer tea, but then I saw the benefit of this opposition: an opportunity to debunk some water superstitions that are held by people in -- and outside -- Davis, California. These points match the [numbers] above:
  1. "The cost per gallon" they are talking about is the average cost per gallon, which is found by taking fixed and variable costs and dividing by use. The new system raises more revenue from fixed charges than before because it's designed to cover fixed costs, which are probably around 80 percent of total costs. This is an intentional move to stabilize utility finances.
  2. Charges are based on summer (peak) use because (a) peak use determines system capacity, which is expensive to provide (bigger pumps, etc.) and (b) summer is when more drinking water is used wasted outdoors. Increasing water scarcity means that summer use (on outdoor landscaping) needs to be reduced.
  3. This is laughable because (a) pumping and treating water produces FAR MORE carbon than "green lawns" remove and (b) the "correct" landscaping does not need to be irrigated.
  4. This is either a typo or a deception. Renters will BENEFIT from the new charges, since they do not have lawns. Those protesting the new tariffs are, by my reckoning, far wealthier in terms of their water choices.
Bottom Line: We will see special interest protests in favor of "carbon eating" lawns in many places where drinking water is too scarce to dump outside. It's time to live with water scarcity instead of pretending that poorer citizens are going to subsidize habits from a past of abundance.

H/Ts to ND and RM
Addendum: This op/ed appeared in the Davis Enterprise after I wrote this post, and I've left more comments/responses there.

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