Monday, November 15, 2010

Water's True Cost

Dave did it!  He fixed a leak in our bathtub faucet that had been plaguing us for months.  And he did it without needing to shut off the water to all of our house.  Our tub, thankfully, has its own water shut off valve, unlike our dishwasher.  Since I started this blog, I had been feeling at least a little convicted that we needed to do something about this leak.  After all, I've been trying to discipline myself to be grateful for the water we have and mindful of our water consumption.  Having an obvious leak in our bathroom doesn't really fit with that.

After our water walk, we kept one of the containers that we used to transport water (a gallon-sized apple juice container) to put under the leaky faucet, and we would periodically use the water to flush our toilet.  This helped us to calculate that the faucet was leaking nearly 2 gallons of water per day.  To delve into this a little further, we'll have to do some math (yay!): our family of 4 pays $30-$35 every 3 months for the 11,000 or so gallons of water that we use during that time period.  So we were paying roughly $0.003 per gallon, or less than one cent per day, due to our leaky faucet.  I have to admit that, given our very low cost of water, it was difficult to feel motivated to buy the parts required to fix the leak and to make time for the fix;  being compelled to make this change was about more than just the money.

Last week, I bumped into a friend unexpectedly.  We chatted for a little while before she mentioned that she needed to get back to her house to talk with her landlord about her extreme water bill...around $270 for 3 months of water usage!   I was feeling upset for my friend, knowing that there was something very clearly wrong (an error in the water meter reading?  a serious leak...but wouldn't that be obvious?) and fearing that maybe she would be held responsible for the financial consequence.  How could anyone be expected to pay that kind of water bill?  But as I pondered this, I started to wonder...

Would our water consumption habits change if we regularly incurred bills of $270 per quarter instead of $30 per quarter for our water usage?  At what point would we start to care?

In her article titled The Next Big Ideas in Conservation: Paying Water's Real Costs, Carmen Revenga, senior scientist with the Nature Conservancy, states that the price you pay for water is but a small fraction of what it actually costs to extract water, deliver it to users, and treat it after its use.  She argues that once we start purchasing water at something closer to its real cost, that not only would we respond by using less water, but there would also be money for things like upgrading inefficient water distribution systems, protecting our existing water supply, and bringing water to people who don't currently have water access.

Trust me, I'm not excited about another bill increase.  So how can we be responsible for water's true cost right now without paying higher water bills?  Let's start with some of the following water conservation practices:
  • Turn off the water while we brush our teeth, wash our hands, and do our dishes.
  • Take shorter showers.  Take fewer showers.
  • Purchase water-saving/efficient appliances.
  • Run only full loads of laundry and dishes.
  • Install rain barrels and use the water for our garden and flowers (hopefully more on rain barrels later this week).
  • Go to a car wash, where wash water is recycled, or use rain water to wash our cars.
  • Wear a clothing item/use a towel more than once before washing it.  If it isn't dirty, don't wash it.
  • Check for leaks and fix them.
  • Compost food waste instead of using the garbage disposal.
  • Protect our water supply - get involved in a local watershed group, plant trees and vegetation along streams, dispose of trash in the appropriate place (let's not sweep leaves or pour oil into our storm drains!).
  • Be grateful for the water we have.  Remembering that access to clean water is a privilege will help us to use less of it.


  1. Such a good reminder, especially for us desert-dwelling folks. (I have to say that I was especially convicted by this one... Sometimes I feel guilty just living here!)

  2. While $270 sounds like a's only $90/month. Another thing to think about - how much do people pay for cell phones? cable TV? internet access? food/vet for pets? Even in the developing world, more people have cell phones than toilets. Which of these are necessities?

    I wouldn't want to pay $270 either, but I would definitely be willing to pay more. Especially if it meant that my treatment plant and water distribution system would be kept in good shape, and re-occurring water main breaks every winter wouldn't happen as often. Maybe our aging water infrastructure wouldn't get a D- rating. And it'd be wonderful if we'd have money left over to help others to boot!

  3. I puts things in perspective when you think about the things we're willing to spend money on. I agree...don't want to see higher water bills, but I think in the long run, it would be worth it. Our water supply is necessary for life and health...we definitely don't value it as we should.