If folks who use water could see on their bills, in detail, how much money they would save by using less, they might do so, the county civil grand jury has concluded.
Charging more money for more water use — a system known as tiered pricing — and explaining that approach on customers’ bills could also lead to conservation, the grand jury claims in its new report, “Rate Setting as a Conservation Tool.”
“Water bills are under-utilized for promoting conservation,” the grand jury wrote.
Grand jurors examined cities, community services districts and water districts in San Luis Obispo County to see “if rate structures are designed to promote water conservation.” The jury focused on residential customers, who consume the majority of urban water.
They found a disparity among water purveyors.
The Atascadero Mutual Water Company, for example, “employs a billing system that most actively encourages conservation,” the grand jury wrote. “Water bills show the base rate, tier rates, tier volume usage, and tier charges.”
Arroyo Grande shows water rate tiers on most of its bills, and although the supplier does not compute the usage, “this can be done by customers based on the data furnished.”
The grand jury wrote that other providers using water rate tiers do not show them on bills.
The panel touched on other factors involving water, including history. In the drought-plagued 1980s, for example, doubling the price of water drove overall consumption down by one-third.
But there was an economic component: Households bringing in less than $20,000 a year cut consumption by one-half, while those earning more than $100,000 annually reduced it by only 10 percent.
Grand jurors also explored the problems of monitoring water use in apartment buildings, which generally have one master meter rather than individualized meters in each apartment.
Putting in the individual meters would drive up costs of construction and raise rents on apartment dwellers, the grand jury noted.
The grand jury noted the technology that could provide detailed and even personalized explanations of water use and billing is costly.
The theme that comes through the most in the grand jury report is the variety of approaches water suppliers are using.
On the web
To check out how your city or district is handling water conservation and its relation to water bills, read the grand jury report at www.slocourts.net/grand_jury.