Stop taking water for granted; ‘cheap water’ is a thing of the past

June 26, 2014 

Here in Cambria, it’s all about the water — or lack of it. Cambrians face the real possibility of our taps running dry by the fall.

Obviously, there is no one solution to water scarcity. And like land, they ain’t makin’ any more water. But we can choose to conserve and/or treat recycled waste water — or, in some cases, desalinate seawater — as necessary.

Here in Cambria, our water rates have been stable for years — we can get up to 6 units (nearly 4,000 gallons) delivered to our door (well, household) for as little as $24 for two months (not including sewer charges, which comprise about 72 percent of the overall bill). I think that’s cheap, don’t you? (Private utilities know that and charge considerably more, and they may actually be less responsive.)

What we pay for water/sewer hardly covers the costs of system maintenance, salaries, studies to improve supply, and new equipment. Our town has been on a growth moratorium for more than 15 years, and hookup fees that were substantial and could have added infrastructure have been virtually frozen. (But then there has been a lot of poor management.)

Problem is, many if not most of us think of water as something that should be essentially free — it falls from the sky, right? Like solar power, we should be able to harness or harvest it — but it’s easy to forget to get it into our homes there are considerable technological challenges. Challenges that HAVE been certainly met, but at significant cost.

What I am leading up to is that “cheap water,” like “cheap oil,” is and should be a thing of the past. I’d pay up to five times as much as I do now for potable, plumbed-in water — heck, the bill would be, shall I say, a drop in the bucket compared to all the others, such as fuel — now going for more than $4 a gallon.

By comparison with gasoline, water in my town is maybe $3 for 40 GALLONS — or less than two cents a gallon!

Ratepayers are certainly justified in leveling criticisms at public officials who spend thousands or more on studies to bring more water supplies to our local population. Water delivery is seen as rocket science, and maybe it is. But stretching a pipe from one reservoir to another and then into a groundwater basin (for purification) doesn’t seem that complicated. The Romans did it 2,000 years ago, and they didn’t even have pipes, just clay culverts!

Beyond that, yes, brackish water recycling does involve some sophisticated equipment, which must be paid for — and it’s simply the future of water, if we can accept drinking it. …

Here in Cambria, we’ve debated the alternative water supply issue for 30 years (we only have wells). There are at least SIX other options, and we have plenty of rocket scientists. We’ve squandered millions on studies, and nothing has gotten done so far.

We could have had multiple reservoirs off our two streams — nope, didn’t happen. Or water storage tanks supplied by rainwater on most properties — it’s hardly ever been discussed. Or desal (but I’m not going there in this piece!). Anyway, I’m no rocket scientist, but I do know when dumb meets dumber.

Let’s stop taking water for granted.

William L. Seavey has authored “33 Guerrilla Water Saving Tips.” (Send a SASE to P.O. Box 1681, Cambria 93428 for a free copy.) He is a member of the SLO Permaculture Guild, which offers classes on all aspects of green living this spring and summer. Visit http://slopermaculture.net.

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