By Dave Bennett, Senior Principal, Environment (Rocklin, CA)
So what’s the problem here? Well, the problem is you can’t fight a fire with bottled water. The foundation of every community and every regional economy is a reliable water system. But, unfortunately, people don’t value what they don’t understand, don’t pay much for, and can’t see. And if people don’t value it then they have no incentive to spend the money necessary to take care of it, and you see where this is going.
If water is so important why isn’t it valued? Three reasons:
1) Most people have no idea about where their water comes from, the effort required to get it to their house every day, or where it goes when they’re done using it. It’s hard to value what you don’t understand.
2) Good as it is, tap water is too cheap. Basically, we get charged for the cost of delivery, not for the water itself. If it’s cheap it isn’t valued.
3) Water infrastructure? What water infrastructure? Let’s repair that pothole down the street instead. Out of sight, out of mind.
So here are a few facts: First, community water systems are just that – community systems. They belong to you, the ratepayers. It is the ratepayers who hire operation and maintenance staff and elect a board or council to be good stewards of their infrastructure. Water infrastructure is expensive to replace – very, very expensive. So it’s important to maintain it in a way that extends its useful life for as long as possible. It’s a LOT more costly to replace infrastructure than it is to maintain it.
Imagine you inherit a Ferrari and when it’s time for an oil change it’s going to cost $400. Sure, you could balk at the oil change, save $400 and brag about how you’re keeping the cost of ownership down. But when the engine needs to be replaced prematurely because the oil wasn’t changed, that cost of ownership you once bragged about will very quickly exceed $400.
In 2009, Americans spent $46 billion for a full year supply of pure water plumbed directly to our homes, showers, sinks, and hoses. Then we happily spent an additional $21 billion, almost half as much, for less than an equivalent 8 hour supply of water in little crushable bottles. That’s fine. Everyone can choose how they want to spend their money. It only becomes a problem when our lack of appreciation (disrespect?) for tap water causes us to forego proper maintenance of our real supply. And that’s what’s happening, particularly in medium and small cities and districts.
You can’t fight a fire with bottled water. Yet we’ll each gladly spend $65 a year on bottled water while vehemently resisting even the slightest increase in rates to support the essential home delivery system that we own. Too often the elected stewards of our very expensive infrastructure only hear one message from the ratepayers: Don’t raise rates! And so, they forego the $400 oil change, and kick the can down the road. The result is a less reliable system that ultimately costs more to operate.
So the punch line is this: Right now the best water in the world is delivered to North American homes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Don’t take that for granted. Make sure your water utility has rates in place to properly maintain and optimize this very expensive asset. Value the world class water system you’ve got and make sure it stays world class.