Feb 16 2014
A Hobson’s choice is a free choice in which only one option is offered. As a
person may refuse to take that option, the choice is therefore between
taking the option or not; “take it or leave it”. The phrase is said to
originate with Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), a livery stable owner
in Cambridge, England. To rotate the use of his horses, he offered customers
the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door or
taking none at all.
Water districts, particularly in California must decide whether to raise
water rates to give us time to fund water recycling or do without. It is a
Hobson’s choice. A harsh statement, so lets examine the facts.
Over the past twenty plus years the San Diego area has grown in population,
yet water use is less now than in 1990. http://www.sdcwa.org/water-use
Much can be attributed to water-saving fixtures that have come on the market.
Toilets now use 70% less water than a couple of decades ago, but another
factor weighs heavily on the data. The rate charged water users has
increased dramatically. However in the past two years, water usage in San
Diego County has actually increased despite the higher rates.
In a previous blog I said the per capita rate of water consumption in
California averages about 200 gallons per day (gpd). For San Diego County In
2011, it was under 150 gpd, and as of 2013 it is over 150 gpd. Usage has
increased. Why? Perhaps because the price has stayed level, and the using
public has not been fully informed about the serious nature of the problem.
The point is, as water pricing increases, consumption drops.
Water-saving through plumbing fixture design has about reached the limit
where any significant impact can affect total water usage. It is now up to
users. Will they limit water usage because they are altruistic and are really
good citizens? Maybe a few will, but by and large, the market decides.
Scarcity drives pricing and pricing drives usage.
A few hours after my last blog was uploaded to www.water-shock.com I
received a Twitter message from Liz Fazio @Liz_Fazio CA #water 200 gpcd is
way too much! @TheWaterLetter:
To which I replied:
Milton Burgess [email protected]
@Liz_Fazio I have seen figures as low as 150 gpd per person, but no lower.
200 seems to be average in California. What does your data show?
And she replied:
Liz Fazio [email protected]_Fazio
@TheWaterLetter: I believe your data is good, just startling 4
drought-stricken area. In TX, San Antonio is down to about 135 gpcd. [gpcd =gpd] .
State water pricing regulations already allow investor-owned water utilities
to raise pricing as usage drops. Those same regulations likely apply to
public/private water districts like the San Diego County Water Authority, so
why not raise water pricing to drive down demand? As water users feel the
impact of higher and higher pricing, water usage will drop, but revenue for
the water districts can remain level. If this is not correct, please let me
know. There has to be an incentive to drive water usage down, and what
better way than to raise the price.
Then, as a prior blog said, we can buy some time while we use the storage we
have to put the financing in place to conceptualize, design and build the
systems and IPR/DPR infrastructure.
For the water users at the poverty line or below, lifeline allowances can be
established to provide a safety net for them.
Hobson said, “Either take this horse, or don’t. Its your decision.” We
either raise water pricing to its rightful value for the socio-economic
health of San Diego and/or the State of California or we go without.
Its a decision the water policy movers and shakers must make while we still
have the luxury of time… and stored water.
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
Author of Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry