29 Jun 2015

Should water managers target users or use?

LH sent these articles, asking for my thoughts:
  1. This Southern California water purveyor (Antelope Valley) will punish "users" who go above "average" use.
  2. This one (California Water) has developed a water budget for each household
In the first case, I worry that the utility is calculating averages based on meters (i.e., per household) rather than people (per capita). Few American utilities have headcount data,* so most of these programs will end up punishing large families as "water hogs." The solution, to me, is to set a standard at two people's use (e.g., 50 gallons/200 liters each, per day) and let people give names and social security numbers** for higher allotments. The alternative -- assuming 6 people per household, as many utilities do -- does very little to cut back on excess use.

In the second case, it's common to include headcounts (gathered one way or another) as well as landscaping area. I dislike this system because "lawns" have a right to a budget allocation, just the same as people. I think people are more important.*** Further, budgets are VERY expensive to implement, given their data intensity.

As I've said before, I'd set one price of water for all use and raise that price in drought to prevent shortages. Higher prices will cut down on outdoor "waste." Would they penalize the poor? Not if they have a low per capita use (and thus low per capita bill). My suggestion of rebating excess revenues is also progressive, as it creates a net transfer from heavy to light users.

Why don't water managers take my advice? First, I think they like taking "off-the-shelf" solutions from consultants (like those above), rather than trying new ideas (even if those have been used for hundreds of years in other sectors). Second, I think they dislike the idea of setting one price and allowing customers to choose their use (this is why there are water cops [funny!] rather than higher prices). Third, they are "not allowed" to collect too much money, but this is untrue, given the long-standing use of "rate stabilization funds," etc.

Bottom Line: Don't manage my water use. Manage demand for the whole system.

* The American fear of "being counted" has been attributed to concerns about privacy, vulnerability to exploitation, and/or the return of the AntiChrist ("And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads" -- Rev 13:16). Here's a rebuttal.

** Social security numbers are supposed to be used for retirement, but they are used by banks et al. to track accounts and avoid tax fraud. That practice is semi-legal but tolerated because America has no national identification card scheme. That lack (see *) complicates welfare, voting, and many other government programs.

*** Los Angeles Water and Power has a perverse system of subsidizing lawns without helping people.

H/T to JF


Katerine Hart said...

One price rule seems to make sense to me. It seems to be the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to reduce water wastage. Government always wants to complicate and over-think things.

Anonymous said...

"I'd set one price of water for all use and raise that price in drought to prevent shortages."

Sounds great in theory but how do you justify the drought / scarcity surcharge (without opening yourself up to a lot of legal ramifications)? You would also rebate the funds?

Would you agree that MWD is already doing this with its turf removal program?

David Zetland said...

@Anon -- I describe the method here. As you will see, it's revenue neutral (even progressive). California's laws are counter-productive on this matter, given that "cost" does not include the cost of water (free, via permits).

MWD's program is a HUGE waste of money, on a per af basis...

Levi said...

I think I never thought about this issue of having them count each house consumption and not consider number of householders. I'm sure there is the technology to measure the consumption by number of householders in each place. Can the census information be added to any water control solution?

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