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.