Sunday, August 21, 2011

A more efficient way to ration water use

To combat the lack of rainfall in Houston, Mayor Annise Parker has decided that it's the right time to ration water use. As of last week half the city can water their yards on Sunday and Thursday and the other half can water on Wednesday and Saturday.

But is that the best way to handle the situation? Rationing forces people to do things at times when they wouldn't ordinarily do them. It is an inefficient use of resources and will cost more money to try to enforce. After all, someone has to drive around and cite people.

It also treats all yards the same. Some yards are big, some are small. Some have elaborate landscaping and some have none. Some have automatic irrigation systems and some have hoses and sprinklers. Some have lots of grass and some have decks and pools. Some yards are shaded better than others.

A more efficient mode of rationing the use of water would be to raise the marginal cost of each additional gallon used. Determine what the average water usage for a house in Houston is during a typical (that is, when it actually rains) month and raise the price of each additional unit of water above that figure.

That way those who need additional water can get it and those who don't need it aren't affected. A homeowner could look at the cost of watering his yard and determine whether or not the benefit of watering is worth the extra cost.

Such a scheme wouldn't require sending folks around in city-owned cars to write citations to citizens trying to keep their yards from turning brown. Such a scheme would allow for the more efficient use of water during drought conditions.

Of course, since it makes sense, it'll never happen.

1 comment:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It's called conservation pricing and many cities (including Austin) already do this. Even so, water is cheap enough that the price point seldom goes high enough to deter excesses by the biggest water hogs. Plus boosting rates high enough to make a difference gins up the ire of the "no new taxes" crowd. So it's political cowardice that prevents using pricing mechanisms as the sole method of conservation, though theoretically that would be the most "efficient" method.