Back to top

Water Conservation Policy

As I've written before water policy is something that is frequently done in a relatively inefficient manner.

Here's some more fun examples:

Keep Prices the Same, but Institute a Quota

This was the plan that Denver used a few years ago. They didn't want to raise prices because some people complained that water is a basic human "right" and that you shouldn't have to pay a ton of money for it. I can kind of agree with that, a certain amount of water is necessary in the world and since Denver's water is a public utility company they should provide at least some water at a low rate.

So, they instituted quotas - if you live on the odd side of the street you can only water on certain days, you can only water for certain amounts of time, etc. They hired little water police to go around giving citations if you broke the rules. And people broke the rules often. I know I did because I'm frequently out of town on the weekends so I had to break the rules if I wanted to make sure that my yard got enough water. But the end result was that significantly less water was used.

When less water gets used and the price stays the same but the cost of policing and education goes up what happens? The water utility brings in less revenue and they have to do they raised their prices. Which is what they wanted to avoid in the first place. So, they spent extra money on the enforcement and education programs and raised prices in the end. They also could have just announced that they were going to raise prices slowly over time and then let people adjust their own lives/gardens/usage patterns to deal with the increased prices, but then they wouldn't have had to hire anyone extra or force us onto their watering schedule.

Keep Prices the Same, but Provide Subsidies

The NCPA had an article a little while ago titled CITIES REWARD 'LIFESTYLE' THAT CONSERVES WATER and aside from the fact that they use all caps in their titles, it was an interesting summary of subsidies in various cities that reward people for doing things which should reduce water consumption. Now, let's think about this for a second. The water folks pay you to put in a low flow showerhead. So, if I put in a low flow showerhead, collect my credit, and then remove it. Has anything good actually happened? How enforceable is the plan? Give people a game and they will play it!

The subsidies that they give you are relatively simplistic: $100 rebate for a "low use washing machine". However, low use washing machines vary in the amount of water that they use - one machine may save 20% while another saves 40% so the rebate amount should vary based upon the amount saved ,right?

One way to offer a subsidy that distributes the benefit according to the amount of water actually saved would be, you know, to raise prices. Because then when I install a washing machine that saves 40% I will save 40% of the money that I had previously spent on the washing machine usage. Ditto for the showerhead. With higher prices there is no need to hire a consultant to come into my home to check if my showerhead is low flow and no need for an enforcer to check up once every few years - I'm going to keep the showerhead because it's in my own self interest to do so.

Raising Prices While Protecting Poor

Now, this is possible because Los Angeles did it about 15 years ago: use a tiered system. The first 100 gallons a day are a low fee. The next are more expensive. The next are even more expensive. Simple! If someone wants 3 acres of Kentucky Blue Grass in the middle of the dessert then let them have it and make them pay for it! If someone wants a rock garden and wants to shower once a week, let them roll around in a bucket of money that they'll be saving. And the beauty of a tiered system with increased prices is that it requires no extra investment from the water department - no need to hire enforcers, no education or public relations program to discuss the right day of the week to water if you live in a blue house without shutters on the odd side of the street. People will figure out the smart thing to do because people are smart!

Unfortunately, as Stan says:


blockquote>American society considers you to be basically a good person, but a little bit stupid.

German society considers you to be basically a smart person, but a little bit evil.



Which definitely makes sense since several of my great grandparents held onto their German culture (language, sayings, values) in the highly German city of Milwaukee.

People Involved: 


I couldn't agree more! I

I couldn't agree more! I agree that it should be a tiered system as it should have been from the start. People that conserve should be repaid plentiful, while those that abuse and need that Kentucky grass should pay for it dearly.

I'm curious to see what's transpired since this post as I've moved from Los Angeles (too Kansas!)