Fair burden for city water use

Posted on May 5, 2014 by Submitted

The best and fairest way to implement city water conservation is by monitoring Russian River water use on a per capita basis of gallons per person per day (gpd). Rate structures have to penalize high use. This is the fairest way to allow citizens to track their own water use and be rewarded for conserving.

That Sonoma is so far above the average county use in unconscionable. The numbers speak for themselves. Sonoma gpd: 262, average county use: 119 gpd. The difference: 146 gpd. This 146 gpd is more than the county average for one person by 27 gallons. It is as if more than 22,000 people live in the city.

Certainly some of the high water use in Sonoma is from residential landscape irrigation. In a rationed, metered system, a baseline gpd would be established relative to number of household residents and that would be charged at a certain rate, above that, landscape water is going to have to be paid at a higher rate. In this manner, household A will not have to subsidize household B’s landscape use and conservation can be rewarded.

I submit that the main factor that puts Sonoma so far over the average is use by tourism and the hospitality industry. Laundry, dishwashing, bar service, food prep, pools, spas, hot tubs, showers, toilet flushes and venue landscape are all non-residential use. Event after event, full and mid-size tour buses, vans, cars, bike tours, you name it, the call is out and they are coming en masse. Surely no one can deny that a major portion of Sonoma’s high per capita gpd derives from tourism. In effect, tourist visits inflate the population of Sonoma by near 100% on a yearly water use basis. It is only fair that this tourist and hospitality use be paid for by the users themselves and not subsidized by residents. A separate and fair metering and budget for hospitality is called for; one that reflects the true cost of scare water.

The way things stand now; high bulk water users actually pay less. For hospitality to pay its fair share of water use, and for residents to not be forced to pay more to subsidize tourism, more accurate metering and a progressive fee structure needs to be enacted. Flat rates are regressive, not fair and don’t reward conservation. Residents need to pay separate from hospitality. The powers that be should advocate this: in a fair market, business is not guaranteed a profit nor a public subsidy.

Residents will have to suck it up on landscape water use with progressively higher rates for higher use but they should not have to suck up the whole tourism water bill too. To achieve widespread buy-in: rates, fees and level of use have to be perceived as scaled and fair. What’s not fair is for those who conserve to subsidize those who don’t. The water discussion needs to go beyond low flow showerheads and get serious about underlying use, especially when the use is so far above average.
Fred Allebach

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