Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Engineering Needs to Start Talking About the Price of Water

And the short answer is water and wastewater rates are ridiculously low in the U.S.  The article, Hey, America It's Time to Talk About the Price of Water, provides a good overview of the issues.  I would like us to consider taking the market market path as outlined in the article - more market based approaches that spur more innovation and greater conservation.  Let's get away from the silly ASCE report grade dream that massive federal aid is in the cards.

From the article:

"Americans got used to paying wee little for a whole lot of pristine water. At the same time, many utilities delayed the long-term capital investments needed to maintain their pipes and plants. Water boards are often run by local elected officials, making decisions uneasily political. A board member with a three-year term might not vote for a water project that would pay off in year six. Officials who tried to raise rates risked being booted out of office. It was easier to hope federal subsidies would continue to flow. They did not. A Reagan Administration phase-out of water-infrastructure grants began 25 years ago. Over the past decade, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water infrastructure funding has declined (with the exception of 2009, the year of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), and policy has shifted from grants to loans.

Unfortunately for water utilities, the timing coincided with the arrival of requirements to scrub dozens of newly regulated contaminants out of drinking water and record numbers of water mains and pipes bursting due to age and extreme temperatures, both hot and cold."
Consumer expenditures on utilities for a four-person household in 2012

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