Many believe that we have been paying far too little for the water we use to grow our food, cool our power plants, and supply our drinking and bath water. That being said, the era of low cost water has ended! Water scarcity, increasing global demand for water, and costly infrastructure upgrades, are contributing to the rapid increase in the price we are paying for water.
In 2012, USA Today surveyed 100 municipalities to discover where water costs were rising the fastest. At least one in four of those surveyed said that their water costs had doubled since 2000. The survey was based on an average water consumption of 7,500 gallons a month and a meter size of 5/8”. A list of the cities that are experiencing the fastest increases in municipal water rates since 2000 are as follows:
- Atlanta: 233%
- San Francisco: 211%
- Wilmington: 200%
- Philadelphia: 164%
- Portland: 161%
- Wichita: 153%
- New York: 151%
- Waterloo, IA: 145%
- Binghamton, NY: 143%
- San Diego and Augusta: 141%
One of the largest drivers for increased water costs relates to the expenses of replacing and upgrading an old water infrastructure to meet the demands of a growing population. This partially explains why the City of Atlanta ranks highest on the list of fastest growing water rates. The city has had to spend $1.3 billion dollars to keep up with federal mandates for water conservation. The cities expense for upgrading aging infrastructure is expected to last until the year 2027. If other municipalities do not focus on getting their own systems upgraded before regulation catches up to them, similar price spikes might soon follow across the country.
For those lucky enough to live near the Great Lakes, it is often harder to comprehend that many regions of the world are experiencing fresh water resource scarcity and declines in the availability of fresh water during droughts and other disturbances. Many scratch their heads as they see their water rates rise. After all, when it comes to water, those living near these lakes have a comparative advantage over much of the rest of the world, as a result of having over 20% of the world’s supply of surface fresh water in their backyard. Only the polar ice caps contain more fresh water. But those living near the Great Lakes, are not immune to water pressures and price increases. Canada’s most productive food growing region happens to be its driest, and it is at risk of becoming drier. Furthermore, and like its Southern neighbour, many Canadian municipalities don’t have direct access to the Great Lakes and municipal infrastructure in many regions can’t handle the addition of more water without incurring infrastructure expansion costs. Take for example, York Region just north of Toronto, Canada. It is the fastest growing region in Canada, yet it does not have direct access to Lake Ontario. Instead, it must transport water from Lake Ontario through an extension of the City of Toronto and Region of Peel water supply systems. With a 50% growth in population expected over the next 20 years, the York Region has initiated a “No New Water” campaign requiring that all new regional facilities be constructed to address water efficiency. The region has reported savings of 20 million liters of water per day with the added benefit of avoiding the release of over 20,000 tonnes of GHG emissions each year. Not surprising, Greater Toronto Area residents are expected to see water rate increases of close to 10% per annum with their cost of water doubling in within the next eight years.
Builders, developers, engineers, architects and municipal officials are taking steps now to ensure new construction uses water in the most efficient ways possible. The installation of greywater recycling systems that capture and treat shower and bath water for reuse in toilets and rainwater harvesting systems and that capture rain water so that it can be used for irrigation allow commercial and residential building owners to react to increasing pressures on water and increased water prices by reducing water consumption.
Saving money by reducing water consumption! – it makes greyt cense!