“If you’re like me, you think of paying your water bill as a necessary evil. Most of us have no choice: Water is essential.” says San Jose Mercury News Reporter Scott Herhold in his column, Get ready for a showdown on your water bill (May 16, 2012).
Water bill a necessary evil? Sounds like Mr. Herhold implies water ought to be free. There are lots of things in life that are essential, e.g., food and emergency medical help. But no one expects either of these to be free. So, why should be water be viewed any differently?
But guess what? Water is virtually free. In general, most Americans don’t pay for water. We pay for water delivery and wastewater disposal. It takes a substantial amount of energy to deliver water to the tap. Indeed, moving, pumping and treating water accounts for the largest single use of energy in California–approximately 10% – 20% of all electricity used.
San Jose Water Co. charges $2.2082 for 748 gallons of water (1 CCF). That’s a third of a cent per gallon. One penny buys about 3.5 gallons of water and all we need to do is turn on the tap to get it. Try lifting a three-gallon jug of water. It’s heavy. A gallon of water weights over 8 lbs. So, one penny buys 3.5 gallons of water and the water company needs to move almost 30 pounds of water at the correct pressure to deliver it to the tap. And it’s doing this job for just one cent which doesn’t include the cost of treating the water. What a bargain!
San Jose Water is proposing the following rate increase over the next three years: 21.5% in year one, 4.8% in year two and 12.6% in year three. At the end of third year, the cost of 748 gallons will be $3.17, or half a cent per gallon. By contrast, one gallon of brewed coffee costs $18.
San Jose Water claims that because we are using less water (possibly due to conservation, or more likely due to the bad economy) it needs to increase rates.
Top-tier investor-owned water utilities in California (such as San Jose Water) are governed by CPUC and protected by utility rate decoupling: customer rates are automatically adjusted to immunize utility earnings from sales fluctuations. Decoupling has been used as a tool by energy and water utilities to promote conservation amongst their customers without impacting their revenues. Decoupling was created and structured to promote conservation without losing revenue. (see the comments for more details).
San Jose Water needs to communicate more clearly the need for rate increases: improve the distribution pipeline, reduce leaks in the distribution system, and maintain and improve the vast infrastructure that delivers instant, clean drinking water to over 300K households and businesses in Santa Clara Valley.
Water is a finite resource and because of its regional scarcity, population growth, and infrastructure costs, we can all expect to pay more for it. The free ride has come to an end.
We all have to become better water managers and life-long conservationists, and expect to pay more for the water we use. And after all is said and done, water is still pretty darn cheap.