For the last two years the city has allocated $30,000 per year from water revenues to fund water conservation incentives, primarily in the form of high-efficiency toilet rebates.
This program has been very successful and more than 500 old water-hog toilets have been replaced in Lake Oswego. Unfortunately, there are still an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 outdated, low-efficiency toilets in our community. The city's Sustainability Advisory Board has sent a recommendation to the city council to increase the yearly rebate allocation in two steps up to $150,000 per year. This allocation, within existing water rates paid by a typical household, would go from about 1 cent to 5 cents per 100 cubic feet (CCF). This is a big increase percentagewise but it has a very good payback for both the city and households that take advantage of the rebate. A typical family of four can save between $35 and $100 per year in their water bill depending on which billing tier they are in.
As for the city, approximately half of the city's electric bill each year is directly related to pumping and treating our fresh water. Last year this was about $750,000. When you work through the math, the $125 rebate is paid back to the city in energy savings in about 12 to 13 years. A toilet can easily last 50 years or more, which would quadruple the city's investment over the life of the toilet. If this increased allocation was maintained over 10 years and all outdated toilets in Lake Oswego were replaced, the annual energy savings could exceed $100,000 per year not to mention we would reduce our annual water use by one-third of a billion gallons. Helping ensure our future water supply through conservation is reason enough for the increase. The energy and financial savings is a bonus that should make this a logical proposal for the council to accept.
The only counter argument that seems to arise on this issue is that water conservation reduces water revenue and that water revenue is needed to pay for water-related capital improvements. If the economic model needed to fund our water supply projects relies on wasting our singularly most precious and finite resource, fresh water, then there is something seriously flawed with the model.
If a minimum amount of water revenue is required to satisfy our water project debt obligations and individual households are using less by conserving, then the logical long- term solution is increase our customer base.
The Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership is a great step towards creating a water grid just like we have with power. Lake Oswego will be connected to Tigard, which in turn is connected to Portland. This will allow Lake Oswego to potentially sell excess capacity to those cities. Another logical partner would be West Linn, which actually has Lake Oswego's water plant within their city limits.
As our water resources are spread more thinly with a growing population and potentially unpredictable snow packs, it makes good sense to view water treatment and distribution on a more metropolitan or regional basis. By aggressively funding water conservation we can help secure our own water future as well as our neighbor's while still satisfying our financial obligations.
Bruce Brown, Lake Oswego, is the co-chair of the Lake Oswego Sustainability Advisory Board.