Sunday, July 26, 2009

Water Meters: It's About Time

Children of a culture born in a water-rich environment, 
we have never really learned how important water is 
to us.  We understand it, but we do not respect it.- William Ashworth, Nor Any Drop to Drink, 1982

"We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one."
 - Jacques Cousteau -
Today's Herald carried this article, which signals the City has finally bought into the idea that it needs water meters.
This decision has been a long time coming, and it will take time to accomplish, but it is the right thing to do.

Inherently, meters allow users to regulate their own water use and not have to subsidize those who use more than necessary.
That is fairer than the system we have allowed to happen, plus it puts conservation opportunities in clearer monetary perspective.

Bellingham and Everett were the only cities in the State of Washington which remained in denial that water meters were needed.
Because of that stance, both cities are now well behind in providing meters to users, particularly those long-time users living in established neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, some of those more modest residences could have benefitted greatly from voluntary water conservation over the years.
New construction has been more fortunate because meter boxes have been required for some, meaning retrofitting meters is relatively simple.
And, new technology allows reading of meters to be be nearly automatic.

Yet, there remain some negative attitudes about meters.
Some perceive an advantage to not having meters, because others would subsidize their over use of water.
Others see meters as an unnecessary expense.
A few see the conversion as yet another 'guvmint' intrusion on private citizens.
While there is some truth in all of these positions, the overall best interests of Bellingham citizens are served by installing water meters.

One point needs to be emphasized; our water system is wholly financed by rates, system development charges [impact fees] and fees from water users.
That now also includes the costs of meters to be installed.
As a so-called 'Enterprise Fund' our Water System Utility is designed to be self-sustaining, just like the Sewer and Stormwater Funds.
Periodic adjustments to rates are needed depending upon the need for system-wide improvements, like storage tanks, mains and distribution piping, water treatment expansion, meters and the like.

With 20-20 hindsight, the City might have avoided the need for this expensive upgrade, but we are where we are and must deal with it the best we can.
Everyone will agree that the idea of fairness in cost and individual decisions regarding water use & conservation are desirable.
And, undue financial burdens on individuals are being avoided, with metering being phased in over time.

Thankfully, this is the direction Bellingham is now headed, toward fairness, conservation and sustainability.

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.
 - Benjamin Franklin

In the Western United States, 
water flows uphill to money.
 - Glen Sanders