This week’s blog is updated from an April 2013 post by Laurie Loftin, Program Specialist
WARNING! I’m going to ask you quite a few questions that require a little thinking.
Another April 15 is quickly approaching. Does a warm feeling of satisfaction sweep over you as you write your check to the IRS? Feel like you are getting your money’s worth? How about when you pay other bills? Surely there is one bill that makes you think, “Wow, I can’t believe how little I pay for how much I get in return!”
Next, I ask you to think of three things you consider essential for life. If you don’t have a top three, take a moment and mentally create a list. What monetary value do you place on these items?
If water was on your list of top three essentials, what price is fair to put on this commodity? One can assume we put a higher monetary value on what we consider most important in our lives. To state the obvious, we need water for our basic survival, making it very important. We turn to it for putting out fires, preventing the spread of disease, growing fruits and vegetables, manufacturing products, cleaning, creating energy, flushing a toilet… The beneficial uses of water are overflowing!
Now for an even harder question. What do you believe is a fair price to pay for clean drinking water transported to your house to meet all of your daily needs? I often hear water should be free. After all, it is supplied by nature, available at any local river, and is replenished by rain. No human or machine put forth any effort to create it, so cost should be nonexistent, right? If this is your thought, then I invite you to take a short walk to the nearest spring, creek, river, or puddle when you are ready to brush your teeth.
The reality is this irreplaceable resource we rely on does come at a price. Here are a few factors which contribute to determining the rates required to adequately treat and distribute water:
- There is cost for installing, maintaining, and repairing the hidden infrastructure we rely on to deliver water to our homes, businesses, schools, and hospitals. Athens-Clarke County has over 775 miles of water delivery pipes. If laid end to end, these pipes would reach to New York!
- Utilities must be able to cover the rising expenses of electricity, chemicals and fuel used to supply and treat water.
- Federally required security enhancements have been put into place following the 9/11 terror attacks, adding to expenditures.
- Salaries must be paid to the men and women who work 24/7 every day of the year to ensure water delivery service does not fail.
- The availability of this resource fluctuates with weather, demand, and other forces. To ensure we have enough, it is prudent and responsible to be efficient with our water usage. Such positive behaviors can result in reduced revenue for water utilities, but does not lower any of the above listed operating expenses. This can affect base water rates.
While your tap water isn’t free, I suggest it is cheap. Utilities must balance the expenses of treating and delivering quality water with what people can afford to pay for this vital service. In 2007 Athens-Clarke County (ACC) implemented a tiered rate structure to encourage water conservation. Looking at the current rates, you find one gallon of ACC tap water costs a customer $.004 in Tier 1. Go up to Tier 4 and the cost rises to just $.01 per gallon. Yes, one penny for one gallon of water in the highest tier rate. Compare this to other liquid products you may purchase by the gallon.
Let’s now compare the total of three typical monthly bills: water, cell phone, and cable/Internet service. Which one is the lowest? I can only speak for myself, but both my individual cell phone and cable bill are higher than my water charges. And which of these three items is truly essential in my life?
I can’t say looking at my water bill in this way will make me smile when I write my next check, but looking at the value and benefits I receive from this service does make me appreciate it more. In fact, it makes me wonder why I don’t pay more.