Why Am I Paying More to Use Less Water?
Water is in short supply. And then we have too much of it. And then we cannot store it, or transport it efficiently to homes, or know how much we are really using once it is in our pipes. And every year we are asked to pay more for it. Water management is a hot topic for local and state governments, and as the nation deals with aging infrastructure, consumers pay the cost of improvements. In 30 major U.S. cities, the price of residential water has increased an average of 41% since 2010. That is a huge hit, and it is not going to get easier on us.
Utilities nationwide can no longer patch and prop up existing water systems; our water infrastructure has reached the end of its useful life. We do not yet need to hoard cisterns of fresh water at our homes to survive a water apocalypse, but it is time to start paying attention. Actually, the time to start paying attention has long passed. It is time for action.
Large, complex improvements must be made: We need to upgrade entire treatment and delivery systems, replacing the pipes that transport drinking water and waste. This means digging up every street in a city, so if the immense cost of a new system is a deterrent, the planned disruption of a community is equally daunting. This is why we, as water consumers, have punted on improvements and why we, as water consumers, must push for the very disruption we will hate. Our water departments want and need to make the improvements, and it is time to fund them.
Currently, some consumers’ rate increases fund long-term projects, such as Santa Fe’s recent pipeline bringing water from the Rio Grande, or Atlanta’s underground storage and treatment plants that will finally stop raw sewage from running into local lakes and rivers. But rate increases also fund the stop-gap measures we use to coax a few more years out of pipes that are many decades old: emergency fixes, routine patchwork, the labor intensive upkeep of less efficient systems. We fund these smaller fixes every year, only to fund more of the same the next year.
Investing in infrastructure upgrades will bring efficiencies. The amount of water your city asks you to cut during a drought is often the same amount of water lost throughout the system, from city pipes and within homes. Technology can be our friend here, in an area far from the traditional tech focus. Upgrading old water meters that require a manual reading at every house will save manpower and alert utilities when there’s a massive uptick in flow — a.k.a., a catastrophic leak. And, with advancements in smart water technology, a Buoy device on your water main will immediately send you a message about that leak so you can choose to shut off your water remotely. Buoy also gives you real-time data showing how much water you are using in different places inside and outside your home, meaning you can control how much of this costly resource you use.
That brings us back to your water bill. In the coming years, you are going to use less water and pay more for it. That is the hard truth. However, technology will help you make smart decisions about your own water use, and help utilities manage the upheaval a complete system upgrade will bring. Upgrades will hit our wallets and our lifestyles, but better that now, when catastrophes are preventable, than in the future, when they are an expensive certainty.