Back to water III

Well, it's happened. Remember when I discussed local water companies in Back to water? I reviewed the politics and economics of water conservation from the municipal and water company standpoint.

I then chased that thought with a discussion of the current drought in Back to water II. The bottom line on that is that nothing's changed. We're still in a locally moderate drought and the watersheds in northern California are in a severe drought.)

But, the response from my local water company has been swifter than I could have imagined!

Today I received a cheery letter asking for my "help to voluntarily reduce water usage." By 20% in year 2020! Since population density is increasing, this really means that per capita reduction will need to be greater than 20%. For me, greater than 20% savings seems a pretty unreachable goal, but perhaps there's highly egregious water wasters that can afford to cut back 30% so that I only have to cut back 5%. On the other hand, perhaps everyone else is saying that too.

The letter goes on. After a short paragraph extolling the merits of their efficiency rebate program (Nothing revolutionary like gray water or rain barrel rebates, instead, "Rebates for High Efficiency Washers, High Efficient Toilets and Urinals, Smart Irrigation Controllers and synthetic turf may be available.") they have a follow-on paragraph about how they have "taken proactive steps to change [their] rate structure to reward conservation" with their new tiered rate system. They then wrap up by telling us that "these efforts will allow us to achieve the necessary conservation of this most precious resource" and chase that aspirational remark with the threat of mandatory conservation measures should "voluntary" efforts fail.

I would bet this letter meets a legal requirement for notification. And I wonder how many people will actually read it?

They encourage us to find out more about tiered rates and rebates. Let's see what that's all about.

I called their 800 number at 7:40 PM and spoke to a pleasant person located in San Dimas, California, about their rebate program and new tiered rate structure.

The rebates are administered through the centralbasin.org web site. Hmmm - it looks like I can get a rebate on a new high efficiency toilet (regardless of my current toilet). Maybe my butt needs a style upgrade. There's washer and sprinkler upgrades too. Maybe I can get a retroactive rebate for my front loading washer!

The new rate schedules decrease the monthly fixed costs of a water meter and implement two consumption-based rates for single family residences only. The rate change occurs at 13 HCF (hundred cubic feet) per month for the area where I live. I use about that much, so I will expect a slight decrease in my water bill since I'll mostly receive my water at the lower Tier I rate. The break even point of consumption (new rates vs. old rates) seems to be designed around 18 HCF / month. The only time I used that much was when my neighbor watered my lawn while I was on vacation and I don't have the lawn anymore.

The tiers don't adjust for the size of your lot or for your historical usage patterns, so my earlier concerns about having already conserved to my limit and then being asked to conserve more were overwrought.

Businesses and apartments will also see a decrease in their monthly fixed costs but will have an increase in their charge per HCF. No tiers, however. Their break even point in my water region is at about 48 HCF / month. In hotter areas, businesses and apartments have a break even point of about 88 HCF.

The tiered rates are divided into two geographic areas, Region II and Region III. I'm in Region II, along with a bunch of other cities, mostly near the coast. Region III includes Seal Beach, but all the other cities in RIII appear to be inland and significantly warmer than RII. Here's a comparison of RII and RIII single family residence costs:

Region II (cooler coastal cities): Tier 1: 0-12 CCF $2.549; Tier 2: 13 CCF and up $2.93. Fixed costs: $14.35
Region III (warmer inland cities): Tier 1: 0-16 CCF $2.067; Tier 2: 17 CCF and up $2.378. Fixed costs: $12.25

What drives the price difference? Is it an acknowledgment that the lot sizes in the Inland Empire are typically larger and covered with a greater amount of grass needing a greater amount of water than coastal lots? Or is there a maintenance cost that's higher for the older infrastructure of RII?

Since I believe in the power of markets to shift consumption, I think this the new pricing schedule is a step in the right direction. It remains to be seen if it's enough.

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