Water consumption drops but not the cost | Richmond Free Press

Why is the price of drinking water increasing?

One surprising reason is that people are using less water in their homes, businesses and factories in Richmond and much of the country.

Public water use has fallen 28% in Richmond over the past two decades, according to April Bingham, director of the Department of Utilities, reducing revenue and forcing the utility to raise rates to maintain financial stability.

The American Waterworks Association reports that consumption has held steady or declined for two-thirds of member companies in the face of population growth as consumers embrace the philosophy of conservation.

Conservation or the concept of using less of a resource to achieve the same result has been all the rage in recent decades. The search for ways to reduce water consumption has fueled a technical revolution, resulting in more water-efficient appliances like washing machines and an overhaul of water-wasting industrial processes.

Today’s efficient low-flow toilets can do the job with 1.5 gallons of water compared to old-fashioned toilets that used 5 gallons – a big deal given that flushing can be up to to 30% of a household’s water use, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Such efficiency draws praise and claims of savings for consumers who jump on the conservation bandwagon. For example, those who install low-flow toilets are told they could save $230 a year on their water bill.

But there is little mention that the savings are illusory because the efficiencies create benefits for the customers, but do not affect the expenses that the producers of water or other resources must incur to create the product.

But water, which everyone should have, is one of the best examples.

In 1999, DPU sold about 11.2 billion gallons of water, Ms Bingham said. Fast forward 23 years and sales have dropped to about 8 billion gallons as of June 30, she said.

The graph shows that the sharp declines occurred among three categories of customers: residential, industrial and commercial.

Ms. Bingham noted that such savings do not affect DPU’s bottom line or change the costs of operating a plant that can generate 132 million gallons of drinking water per day.

Estimates based on the 1999 water tariff indicate that the decline in usage cost the DPU at least $8 million per year.

On the one hand, DPU is “committed to protecting the environment,” Ms. Bingham said, “which includes promoting conservation and responsible water management.”

On the other hand, he must also sell more water or increase the price to take into account the reduction in consumption if the plant wants to continue producing quality water.

“Much of the cost of water service is fixed,” Ms. Bingham said. The utility needs a certain amount of revenue to cover expenses such as chemicals, electricity, operations and maintenance, none of which decrease because less water is sold.

The salaries of DPU employees also do not drop when consumers reduce their water consumption. Nor does the DPU need to borrow and repay debt to replace the aging network of pipes, some of which are 100 years old or more.

“Even if costs are maintained at current levels,” Ms. Bingham said, the utility is expected to increase monthly service charges or increase the price of water “if volumes continue to decline, a trend DPU expects. to continue” for the foreseeable future. .”

She said the rate restructuring could lessen the impact on residential customers. DPU plans to conduct a cost of service study in 2023.

“We will work diligently to ensure rates are fair and sufficient to cover costs,” she said.

There has already been an impact.

Water rates have increased three to seven times since 1999, though the cost is still negligible compared to the $1 a gallon consumers pay for filtered bottled water.

In 1999, residential customers paid 72.8 cents for 748 gallons, or 0.0009 per gallon, or a ten thousand of a penny.

This year, the cheapest rate for residences is $2.85 for 748 gallons, or 0.0038, or about one-third of the center. (748 gallons equals 100 cubic feet of water or 1 ccf; city water meters measure usage in ccfs.)

The impact is also felt on the cost of treating the water once it has gone through the sewers and down the sewer lines. In 1999, the residential charge was $1.185 per ccf of wastewater; today the fee is $7.985 per ccf.

Overall, according to DPU, residential customers can expect to pay bills of more than $100 per month for tap water and sewage service.

Christy J. Olson