‘Water Budgets’ to Conserve Water
As California enters its fourth year of severe drought conditions, water utility companies are adopting some innovative programs to encourage consumers and commercial facilities to use water more efficiently. One unique program that appears to be promising implements water-pricing programs called “block water budgets.” The “block” refers to a billing block, or the charge for a certain amount of water per so many hundreds or thousands of gallons.
These water budgets can be defined as “an indoor allocation [and price structure] based on the number of people in a [residential or a commercial facility] and an outdoor allocation based on the amount of irrigable land, special needs, and local weather conditions,” according to a recently released report published in the University of California–Riverside School of Public Policy journal, Policy Matters. The report goes on to say that the “sum of the indoor and outdoor allocations is a household’s water budget. Staying within that budget is deemed efficient use [of water]. Water use that exceeds a household’s budget is considered inefficient, and is priced at a higher rate to encourage conservation.”
Essentially this means that the water budget is based on household characteristics (for residences), environmental and climate issues, and a judgment by the utility company about how much water a typical residence or facility should use along with what constitutes the most efficient use of water given these and other conditions. For an example of how a water budget system works, we can turn to a program now in place in Boulder, Colorado. It includes the following criteria for residential and commercial consumers:
Single-Family Residential Accounts Monthly water budget is the indoor allotment (7,000 gallons for a family of four) plus outdoor allotment based on customer-specific irrigable area and seasonal watering needs.
Multifamily Residential Accounts Monthly water budget is the indoor allotment (4,000 gallons per dwelling unit with one to two bedrooms) plus outdoor allotment based on customer-specific irrigable area and seasonal watering needs.
For commercial, industrial, and institutional water consumers, the city has established the following water budget criteria:
Average Monthly Use (AMU)
AMU is the default option. This budget is calculated using the historical average of 12 consecutive months of water use for that facility or location, so that every month’s water budget is the same.
Historical Monthly Use (HMU)
The HMU budget is calculated using a rolling three-month average for each individual month. For example, the average of the use during the previous three Januarys would be the next year’s January budget.
As to the actual water budget billing blocks, Boulder water consumers are charged accordingly based on 2013 charges:
|Billing Block||2013 Rates (per 1,000 Gallons)||Percent of Designated Water Budget|
|Block 1||$2.42 (3/4 the base rate)||0–60%|
|Block 2||$3.23 (the base rate)||61–100%|
|Block 3||$6.46 (two times the base rate)||101–150%|
|Block 4||$9.69 (three times the base rate)||151–200%|
|Block 5||$16.15 (five times the base rate)||Greater than 200%|
But Does It Work?
The water budget program is a bit complicated both for consumers to understand and for water utility companies to implement; however, many utility companies and others are overlooking the complications because of one overriding factor: it appears water budget programs do work.
According to the UC–Riverside report mentioned earlier, averaging the water records of 13,000 single-family users where a water budget system was imposed in the Eastern Municipal Water District, serving a population of nearly 800,000 people in central California, water consumption was 15 percent below where it would have been under a flat-rate pricing structure. (Under a flat rate structure, which is commonplace in the US, consumers are charged a flat rate for water that does not go up with usage nor does it take into consideration how the water is used.) The report adds that while consumers paid an average of only 4 percent more for water under the water budget system, “flat rate prices would have to increase by around 30 percent to achieve the same 15 percent demand reduction.”
Building owners who are operating a commercial facility under a water budget program have many opportunities and technologies available to reduce consumption. Simple aerators installed on all faucets can make a big difference. Additionally, transferring from conventional toilets to low-flow systems, and changing other water-using fixtures, such as urinals, to those that work efficiently without water, not only can have a major impact on water efficiency but also can make living within a water budget much easier than was ever thought possible.
A frequent speaker and author on water conservation issues, Klaus Reichardt is founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc, Vista, CA, makers of waterless urinals and other restroom products. He founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water conservation in mind. He may be reached at Klaus@waterless.com
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