April 17, 2009

Water Woes

My last water bill was for $136.19. For 10 lousy units of water. That averages out to $13.62 per unit of water.  What makes this so pathetic is that only $26.10 of my bill was for my "consumption" of water. Strange, in an era of so little water, the consumption is the cheapest part of my bill. Which means, I am subsidizing the water hogs in Poway.

How can that be? There are 4 separate charges on residential water bills in Poway. Two of the fees don't have anything to do with how much water anyone uses. They are fixed fees, a $22.38 bi-monthly for water and a $15.48 for sewer. Every residential customer on a 3/4 in meter pays those fees no matter if they use 5 gallons or 5 million gallons of water.  That hardly seems fair, but the tiered sewer fees are even more unfair.

In Poway, we do not have any meters to measure how much water we each put into the sewer system. So the city uses a formula to guess at a close approximation. They average the lowest water use in the 3 previous winters and multiply that number by 85%. That qualifies a user to be in one of 7 tiers, each of which pays a different fee.

Only they really don't do it that way. My last 3 lowest winter water bills were 10, 8, and 20 units. My average is 12.67 and 85% of that is 10.7 units. That should qualify me for a tier 2 fee of $47.98, but instead I am paying a Tier 3 charge of  $72.23. This is because my lowest winter bill this year was in Jan/Feb 09, and the city won't count that. They are using an average from 2, 3, and 4 winters ago.  The 2005/6 and 2006/7 winters were extremely dry.  By including them in our average for 4 yrs,  those of us who are normally in Tier 2 get bumped up into Tier 3 or Tier 4. The penalty for me is an extra $145.00 a year. 

Even if they didn't include bone dry winter water use for 4 yrs, Poway's tiered sewer rates are structured in a way to reward the profligate and punish the conserver. Look at the chart below, the one that looks like a staircase built by a drunk carpenter. This chart compares the tiered sewer fees.  Notice that the increase from Tier 1 to Tier 2 and from Tier 2 to Tier 3 are ginormous, compared to the puny increase from Tier 3 to Tier 4.  That makes the sewer fees really disproportionate to water use.  For example, using 13 units of water will get you a $72.23 sewer fee. Use twice as much, 26 units and you will only have to pay $79.15.  Where is the incentive to conserve?
As councilman Cunningham says, it isn't a crime to use a lot of water. At least not yet.  The councilmembers set the water and sewer rates. They decide if we are in a water shortage emergency and what the consequences and fines will be. They have transferred 6 or 7 employees to the water department, where we will be paying them to get everyone to conserve more water. So it is only fair to look at the councilmember's own water use and see if they practice conservation and/or if they are benefitting from water and sewer rates which subsidize the water hogs.  The chart at the top of the blog shows each councilmember's water use in 2008. (note: I have included Cafagna's data because he voted on the water rates and set policy at this time. Cunningham was not a councilmember until Dec 08.)

Councilwoman Rexford gets kudos for being a real water conserver. I am not sure how she does it. Paper plates, showering with a friend, peeing outdoors? Whatever it is, she could give us all some pointers. I included my own water use on the chart for comparison. (And for the record, I pee indoors in a low flush toilet.) But holy cow! Except for Boyack and Rexford, our council members are pretty profligate with the wet stuff. 

And when they were pushing the 20 gallon challenge and water conservation on us, did they also conserve? Here is a comparison between their 2007 and 2008 water use:

Rexford decreased her water use 13% from 2007 to 2008. Boyack cut back 16%. Cunningham cut back almost 5%. Cafagna upped his usage 6% while Higginson used 38% more water in 2008 than in 2007.  Did you get that? Higginson INCREASED his water use 38% from 2007 to 2008. Way not to be a good role model, Don.

Although Poway will be increasing water consumption rates, with higher rates for the water hogs, they ought also to restructure their fixed charges and their tiered sewer rates if they really want to maximize conservation. And as for those employees now working in the water department, wouldn't your job be easier if the people who imposed the rules on everyone else practiced a little conservation themselves?

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