Sunday, January 30, 2011

Conserve to Enhance - helping the environment via water bills

While my previous post discussed the myriad problems associated with allocating water for the environment, here I'd like to talk about something novel being tried in Tucson to connect individual water conservation decisions with environmental restoration.  The program is called Conserve to Enhance (C2E) and operates by having municipal water customers here in Tucson implement something on their property (i.e. rainwater harvesting or graywater reuse) that will decrease the amount of water they use each month, leading to a regular savings on their water bill.  That savings does not come off of their bill.  Instead they continue paying the same amount and the money they would have saved is put in a funding source for environmental restoration projects that typically require a water source to establish and maintain riparian ecosystems.

A pilot program for C2E was just started, so the program has been in the news recently (see here, here, and here).  The program evolved from an idea developed at the University of Arizona's Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) that was originally known as Environmental Water Banking.  It evolved from what was perceived as a need to link water conservation activities with environmental benefits in the community.  A common complaint in the past has been that water conservation only frees up more water for new development so why bother.

I'm not involved in the program, but Watershed Management Group (for whom I'm a board member) is the entity running the program, with assistance from WRRC and the Sonoran Institute and grant funding from EPA that is providing subsidies for some of the pilot program participants to install the infrastructure necessary to realize their water savings. 

While this is a rather small step in the overall goal of bringing the environment to the table when water is being dished up it is a very big step in public perception of water conservation and how it's connected to protecting the environment.  And perhaps more than that, it's an example of people assigning an economic value to environmental amenities and backing that up with real money to provide water for the environment.  Hopefully in a year I'll be talking about how successful the pilot project has been and that plans for a full-scale roll-out are imminent.


Eric Perramond said...

An interesting program Chris. So it's more a 'bank' than some kind of a water trust that would "retire" water usage (rights) in the future?

Our problem in Colorado is that we can't even implement stage 1 - rainwater harvesting techniques or even rain barrels. We're supposed to let it become runoff, part of our compact with farmers way down the Arkansas River (in this basin).

We can't even make progress if no one agrees the solutions would be benign. Idiotic.

Katherine Wilkins-Wells said...

Chris, are the conservation plans the money will be used for clear to the participants up front? If not, do you see any problems showing up later because of the conservation choices that will be made by the fund managers? I'd be interested in the vision provided to the prospective participants that convinces them to play. Good article. Thanks for covering it.