The Cruel Paradox of Water Conservation

The more we conserve, the more it costs  :-/

The cost of water could soon rise for more than a million people in East Bay communities of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Tonight the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) will consider a six-percent price hike for this fiscal year.

(UPDATE: District directors approved the increase unanimously)

Water districts around the state are also increasing rates as customers conserve water.

“It’s a horrible conundrum,” admits Herb Niederberger, a division chief at the Sacramento County Department of Water Resources. “The more you conserve, the better it is for the utility, but at the same time, less revenue is generated and in order to cover costs you have to raise rates.”

The Sacramento agency and EBMUD are completing a regional water-supply project.
EBMUD is also contemplating another six-percent hike next fiscal year.

The Cruel Paradox of Water Conservation 14 June,2011Craig Miller

3 thoughts on “The Cruel Paradox of Water Conservation”

  1. There are two things at play, neither of which you mentioned in this post.

    We have to start with the recognition that the costs to deliver water to your premises are not totally related to volume. The amount of water used is a variable cost. However, building and maintaining the infrastructure: pipes, conduits, dams, etc., are fixed costs Then, there is the cost of the employees.

    In Morgan Hill, they are going to defer maintenance on the water and sewer systems in order ot save money this year. I am not sure that this is a good idea, but it is their response to the same problem.

    The second part of the problem is that we don’t have a good planning process that is based on bio-regional supplies and needs. What we have is a political process based on who can yell the loudest.

    My co-blogger at Califonia Greening, Martin Zehr, was a participant in a regional planning process in New Mexico that was much responsive and transparent than what we have. The two most recent posts at that blog are his take on what California should be doing, based on a recent PPIC report… focusing on the process ideas (good) as opposed to the solution ideas (not so good) that the PPIC presented.

    A direct link to the first post is and you can easily find the other.

    1. Your thoughtful comments are always appreciated, Wes. We’re looking into doing a radio explainer on this that would break down this “paradox” a bit more.

  2. Another problem with saving water is that it can end up facilitating more development, even in water-short areas. If we use less, the developers use the new lower figures on water consumption to argue that there is plenty of water for new units. Until this mindset changes on planning commissions and city councils, I’m not motivated to save water.

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Craig Miller

Craig is a former KQED Science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to that, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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