Last year, on the subject of water bills, Mayor Cornett observed that “people seemed to prefer to have a smaller increase each year rather than a large increase every three or four years.” The new rates starting in October are not out yet, but I anticipate an increase of about a buck. Meanwhile, the September bill, which is fairly typical of my usage, runs as follows: customer charge = $9.75, 3000 gallons at $2.35/thousand = $7.05, total $16.80. (This does not include sewer or trash service, opt-in on the local ambulance service, or the infamous “Drainage Fee.”) I’m figuring, therefore, about $18 a month just for water.
The new rates in drought-ridden Austin [pdf] are a little bit more onerous, but for now, only a little, at least at my consumption level. For the same 3000 gallons:
- Customer account charge: $4.83
- Equivalent meter charge: $1.79
- Fire protection component: $0.60
- Water sustainability fee: $6.00
- First 2000 gallons at $1.11: $2.22
- 1000 gallons at $2.93: $2.93
Total $18.37. Beyond the two usage tiers you see here, there are three higher ones; beyond 25,000 gallons the price per thousand is a stiff $11.59, so watch that sprinkler.
That “sustainability fee” calls for a second look [pdf]:
More than 80 percent of the water utility costs are fixed but the revenue is volatile due to the recent successes of water conservation, extreme weather patterns, and the downturn in the economy. Austin Water faced a revenue loss of over $50 million last year alone. We remain committed to conservation, but we need to change our business model for the water utility to remain sustainable.
Austin Water is proposing a water sustainability fee which is a fixed fee charged to all customers that will fund conservation programs while helping to stabilize Austin Water revenues.
Note that “successes of water conservation” cost them money.
More price increases will be necessary if this drought continues. But we know that price is an effective way to ration water, more effective than mandatory conservation (and oodles more effective than voluntary conservation). While demand for water is inelastic, it is not perfectly so.
Oklahoma City can tell you that voluntary conservation didn’t do much of anything this summer, and reservoir levels are down: Hefner about nine feet, Overholser about eight, and Stanley Draper nearly thirty. Then again, Austin’s Lake Travis is down 48 feet, though Lake Austin is pretty close to normal.
Austin anticipates that between 2011 and 2016, the average water bill will rise 61.2 percent [pdf], though their average user uses quite a bit more than I do. If nothing else, this demonstrates that water isn’t going to get any cheaper, even on those rare occasions of late when it actually falls out of the sky.