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« Texas A&M Journal of Real Property Law: Special Issue on 'Water Law' | Main | TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 9 - 15 November 2013 »

Thursday, 14 November 2013


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Will Anderson

That lawn could look a lot better with 1/4 the water if they just spread some compost on it. Or hired a consultant. Irrigating nonstop just leaches all the nutrients away. . .


Hi, David and Matthew.

Thanks for the comments.

Some info about the Portland Water Bureau and the rate issue. IMHO I think the PWB is pretty well run. They just finished a $1B 'Big Pipe' project to deal with CSOs. The EPA has ordered them to cover their reservoirs. They have a filtration waiver from EPA for the Bull Run watershed but I am unsure how long that will last. So they are under some 'price pressure'. And then there are the usual other infrastructure issues (old pipes, emerging contaminants, etc.) that will cost $$$.

@David: you raise a good issue about the 'moral hazard' or 'moral sin' involved. Water is currently plentiful in the area. So if the folks can afford it, shouldn't they be able to use as much as they want? My class generally felt this way.

@Matthew: you raise an equally valid issue about environmental flows. There are other uses besides human ones and in the PNW watershed restoration is almost a religion. So we have an obligation to the environment as well. I would come down on the side of cutting back on your water use for environmental conservation.

1M gallons per year?? C'mon man!

Matthew Heberger

@David, I'm not an expert on the situation in Portland, but I think there are two things happening here.

First, re: "abundance." Sure, the Pacific Northwest is wet and rainy, so it's easy to call their water supply abundant. But their water comes from the Bull Run River, a tributary of the Columbia which supported salmon and other anadramous fish species that are now endangered. In brief, diversions are killing federally-listed species, so that's one reason to use less water.

Regarding the need to raise prices, Portland's water utility rates are going up a lot faster than inflation. You know well that this is the case for a lot of US utilities these days, since they are dealing with costly infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, more stringent water quality laws, and greater demand for environmental protection.

Where should all the money they need come from? I think we agree that it should be the water users themselves. Simple volumetric rates are simpler and more economically efficient, but I think utilities should also worry about fairness and social equity, and I think that's why our opinions differ on "tiered rates." It seems fair to charge a small amount for water for basic needs, and much higher unit costs for water use that is "discretionary," like irrigating the acres of grapes behind your Italianate villa!

Account Deleted

@Matthew -- you sound reasonable, but why raise prices if water's abundant? Is there some "moral sin" involved? I'm happy to concede a high level of environmental flows but what if it's STILL abundant?

I'm seeing a little too much "oh, my, they don't recycle" in this article, which is kinda silly compared to real issues.

Matthew Heberger

I kind of love these stories, just because they attract a lot of attention. A couple observations: almost every entry mentioned leaks. Plus, there is a lot of large landscape irrigation happening with potable water. So a couple of ideas for the water utility managers in Portland:

1. Install smart meters so people can get timely notification of leaks. Failure to repair a large leak in a few days should be grounds to cut off someone's service.

2. Institute steeply tiered rates. These big water users apparently don't respond to price signals and pay their bills without batting an eye. Then the big users cross-subsidize, and no rate increase is necessary for average water users.

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