Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New post on water rate policies from "On the Public Record"

This is a fairly new blog by an anonymous civil servant in California that has become one of my favorites recently. It's called On the Public Record. One of the virtues of posting anonymously is that you can shoot from the hip and not worry too much about offending anyone, which this blogger certainly does.

He has a couple of posts from earlier today about the issue of water pricing and its use as a conservation tool - post 1, post 2, post 3. In the posts he jumps on people (mostly economists) who oversimplify the ability to reduce use by raising rates, by pointing some of the practical limitations of that policy.

Here are a few comments that I particularly enjoyed, but I encourage you to read all 3 posts in their entirety.

On the real meaning of our current "drought":
When everyone says “drought” and “shortage”, what we basically mean is “less then we’re used to”. We don’t mean, and won’t in the foreseeable future, “not enough to drink and bathe”. So far we’re not even close to that range. What we do mean is “not enough to use it like we’ve always been able to”, on lawns and embedded in our meat supply and on wasteful appliances and by deferring maintenance on leaky pipes.

Stating a very simple reason why conservation pricing has not been implemented in California:
... one side effect of Proposition 218 [in California], put forth by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, was that it became illegal to charge any household more than the costs of conveyance to that parcel. It was illegal to charge punitive rates to send a price signal to wasteful users . . . So you have all these economists telling districts they could solve their shortages by charging more for excessive use, and districts saying, we’ll get sued. It was illegal until six months ago.

And my personal favorite referring to some of the people who complain most loudly about being asked to pay the real costs of their lifestyle choices when water or sewer rates are raised:
... the truth is, most of those new fees are different forms of internalizing environmental costs. Someone who can’t afford to pay those cannot afford their standard of living. They’ve grown used to that standard of living under artificially low prices subsidized by the environment, but that is a false expectation. . . their fight is to impose the costs of their lifestyle, of which water is just one example, on anything else. The environment, most likely, or the collective as a second choice. Then I am not so sure that that lifestyle is such a valuable one that I care if they get to continue it. I am even less sure that I care enough to spend money supporting their lifestyles.

Is it harsh? Yes. Is it true? Also, yes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris,

Reading your bio shows me why we (likely) see eye to eye on stuff. I'm an ag engineer who went to law school. I think knowing a couple disciplines can shape your perception.

Thanks for the kind words.

On the Public Record