While hurricanes Harvey and Irma deluge floods of biblical proportions, 21.7 million Americans – 11 percent of the country – were living under drought conditions on August 1. And drought conditions are expected to worsen. In fact, in Montana and North Dakota an unprecedented drought is crippling Montana and North Dakota farms and forests.
The impact is dramatic. Not only does drought increase demand from water systems, it decreases snowpack, harming long-term water supplies. It sparks fires as forests and grasslands dry out. It influences the amount of food we grow – and, therefore, food prices.
Still, the issue isn’t simply climate change. Our water systems are under extreme stress from lack of investment to maintain them. It helps explain why the American Society of Civil Engineers rates the country’s drinking water infrastructure a D. It calculates that our aging and underperforming infrastructure serves as a drag on the U.S. economy – costing each American family $3,400 a year.
Getting customers used to higher water rates should be relatively easy, even if people are getting tired of escalating user fees, in general. The average price of water in the U.S. is about $1.50 for 1,000 gallons. At that price, a gallon costs less than a penny. That compares with bottled water costs that average $1.22 a gallon and electricity at about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. (The typical U.S. household uses about 908 kWh of electricity monthly.)
Water rate structures can enable all of us to enjoy cheap, ample access to clean water while preventing the water hogs from being too piggy. Resources such as Financing Sustainable Water strive to demonstrate how to balance multiple objectives like long-term fiscal health, efficiency, affordability, etc.
Given that resilience includes good governance, decreased risks from climate change, improved public utility service delivery and enhanced economies, it seems smart to put water rate increases in place now to mitigate both climate stress and the persistent and ongoing aging of our infrastructure.
Joyce Coffee is president of Climate Resilience Consulting working with leaders to create strategies that protect and enhance markets and livelihoods through adaptation to climate change.
Joyce Coffee, LEED AP, is founder and President of Climate Resilience Consulting. She is an accomplished organizational strategist and visionary leader with over 25 years of domestic and international experience in the corporate, government and non-profit sectors implementing resilience and sustainability strategies, management systems, performance measurement, partnerships, benchmarking and reporting.