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The Problem With Water Restrictions

Wash Up As summer rolls on in North America, it’s interesting to find an article about water restrictions from Australia, which is in the middle of a pretty cold, (relatively), winter. However, having lived on the continent for most of my life, I have a deep respect for water, and understand the problems with turning it into a commodity, and attempting to use regulation to limit the wasting of water for frivolous purposes such as watering your lawn.

Some cities have faced a ban on outdoor water use as restrictions have been tightened in recent years. But the National Water Commission thinks such restrictions are unfair and there are better ways of cutting water use as the country grapples with drought. “The commission regards long-term temporary water restrictions as an inequitable and inefficient way of balancing supply and demand,” the commission said in its water proposal, released on Wednesday.

The proposal says changing water pricing is the best way to encourage conservation. It recommends “scarcity pricing”, which means households pay more for water in dry times, and less when it’s wet. Peak pricing could also be introduced. Governments would not intervene to keep prices low. And renters, who usually do not pay for water, could have to fork out. To facilitate this, flats and units could have their own water meters and bills, instead of being metered en masse.

Water restrictions don’t work: experts

Equitable Pricing

[ad#200-left]As more communities in North America turn to metering as a way to manage water consumption and better understand patterns of use, my biggest concern is that water authorities won’t have the guts to implement tough pricing measures when necessary. The pricing must be fair, and represent the availability of water without subsidizing inefficient users or unduly burdening the average user.

Many communities in America will discover, as have those in Australia, that the social value of water restrictions diminishes as a drought continues. Having seen outdoor faucets removed from buildings in Australia in an attempt to reduce water consumption, the restriction of washing cars, watering lawns and toll-free numbers to anonymously dob –in-a-neighbour, I feel like I’ve seen some of the worst of Urban Water Management methods.

Down With the Inclining Block Tariff!

There have been many attempts to manipulate water use through different tariff structure using meters, but many of these, particularly those with an inclining block structure, have little to no grounds for equity, punishing the larger family for using more water as a whole. A more equitable method is a two part tariff, fixed and variable, with the variable based on a price per kilolitre, from the first kilolitre used. The rate per kilolitre can be changed to reflect seasonal water supply variances throughout the year, to encourage reduced consumption.

Education Remains the Key

Overall, in all communities and water supply situations, education about the water, cost of supply and methods of conservation remain high on the priority list to ensure that residents are continually informed as to what state their water supply is in.

The Australian National Water Commission homepage provides links to some interesting papers, at least one of which I will be discussing here, (or elsewhere), in the future.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.