Feb 3 2014
You Have Your Units Wrong, Mate
At a recent international water conference, a water manager from Southern
California was boasting per capita water consumption had dropped from 200
gallons per day per person to 150. An Aussie spoke up from the audience
saying, “You have your units wrong, mate. You mean 150 liters per day.“ The
US water official said,” No. 150 gallons per day per person.” To which the
Aussie replied, “I suggest you keep that to yourself, mate, thats double
the per capita water consumption down under.”
To those metrically-challenged individuals, 150 gallons is 568 liters per
day per person. In Australia, per capita water use is around 200 liters per
day per person, or half of the figure touted by the Southern California
official. That is only 52 gallons per day per person. You can see why the
Aussie was confused.
Water economics in the deserts of Southern California is fascinating. In a
free market, the greater the abundance of a commodity, the cheaper the price
and vice-versa. But in SoCal, water is not abundant, it is scarce, but just
looking at the price one would assume there is an unending, abundant supply.
I cannot even begin to explain the complexities of how water pricing is
established by the water agencies. I am not even sure they completely
understand. But what they know is, if the price goes up, their revenue goes
down as people naturally conserve. So the agencies have a disincentive to
When water revenue goes down, the water agencies have to reduce their
expenses to match income. Since much of their overhead is labor, layoffs are
inevitable. The conveyance of water (wheeling rates) also goes down, but
they are stuck with fixed costs for the distribution systems.
Can you imagine what the impact on the water agencies would be if the price
was increased and usage dropped to fifty gallons per day per person? In
round numbers, the San Diego area currently consumes 500,000 acre-feet per year.
If we drop that to the 50 gallon per capita use, it may not be linear, but
if it is, consumption of water in the San Diego area would be a third of
current consumption, or 165.000 acre-feet per year. WOW! That 20 gallon
challenge the agencies are touting gets caught in the rounding.
So, I get it. It took a while, but now I understand the position of the
power brokers who have their monopolistic feet on the necks of the water
consuming public. Water pricing is not going to rise anytime in the near
future to fund recycling. As prices have increased, water consumption has
fallen, as the San Diego UT editorial of 2/3/2014 says from more than 200
gallons per person per day to 150.
That translates to a whopping reduction
in revenue to the water districts,with layoffs and smaller bonuses for the
administrators. That’s why real solutions to make San Diego water
independent go begging. Promoted are storage and more environmentally
difficult desalination. Any mention of recycling in that editorial? A
resounding, NO! And thats why the SDCWA is turning a deaf ear to the
drought. The editorial says, Lastly, there is a need to continue to develop
new sources of water. LASTLY??? How about FIRSTLY! NIMBY is an acronym
for inaction. So is NMPC, Not My Pay Check!
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
Author of Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry
About Alumni at the University of Montana