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How often do you find yourself in a situation in which someone asks: “So, you are in the water business … is it true that water is going to be the blue gold?”
If you are like me, you probably find yourself in this situation on a regular basis. Questions typically vary, but those about water conservation seem to come up more and more frequently.
Just recently, I found myself at a non-water industry social gathering discussing how to go about installing a rainwater harvesting barrel to help supplement irrigation and reduce storm water runoff. What a snooze, right? Wrong.
With stats showing that a typical ½-in. rainfall would fill an approximately 50-gal rain barrel or that a 1-in. rainfall would yield a half-gallon of water per square foot of roof area, it seems difficult not to talk about rainwater harvesting and water conservation.
The use of reclaimed water for irrigation and other purposes has been employed as a water conservation practice for many years, especially in water-stressed states in the South. Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with these practices as a way to extend water supplies.
Rainwater harvesting may seem like a no-brainer, but that’s not always the case. As water becomes scarcer, regulators have begun scrutinizing rainwater harvesting more closely. Some states, like Colorado, prohibit rainwater harvesting, while others are considering requiring a permit for rainwater capture systems above a threshold amount or regulating rainwater harvesting altogether.
Why is it that some states are more in tune with water conservation practices than others? Ultimately, it comes down to water availability, customer education and water pricing.
As members of this industry we know very well that fixed water charges do not encourage conservation. In fact, studies show that water use decreases with water price increases. Inaccurate pricing, however, could not only result in financial hardships on low-income customers, but also negatively impact utility revenues. This is why many utilities turn to inclining block rates—where water price increases with higher blocks of water use—to maximize conservation while maintaining revenues.
Customer involvement and education are other essential steps to the success of any conservation program. While effective water conservation begins with water providers, it ultimately ends with consumers. They need to see more pricing and water use information included on their bills, such as how their use compares to that of the utility’s average residential user.
Customer reward programs also are a worthwhile conservation incentive. For example, it is important to reward customers for making cost-effective changes in water appliances and behavior through greater savings.
Our water supplies are not endless. In order to ensure high-quality water availability for generations to come, everyone from the federal, to state, to local, to consumer level must make a pledge to conserve water. And yes, water may indeed be the blue gold—and sooner than we think.