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City is taking the right approach with water
The following is an open letter to the citizens of Lake Oswego:
Congratulations to the Lake Oswego City Council for the unanimous approval of the tiered water rate proposal. Your decision is the correct decision for the following reasons:
Water conservation is an imperative.
a. Water is a finite resource
b. Its unmitigated usage comes at a huge cost to society
Water is not a free good. (Councilor) Donna (Jordon) said it well during the council meeting when she commented that it is, perhaps, the 'change' in pricing that is most difficult for some to accept. Water is so inexpensive that many seemingly regard it as a free good.
It is no secret that the availability of free goods is an invitation to misuse. Our economic model allocates resources based upon the cost of the resource. When we unwittingly subsidize the cost of water, by failing to capture its total cost, we invite misuse. Citizens will be more vigilant about the use of water if there is a financial incentive to do so. Why do bottle deposits increase recycling rates, why do higher garbage tipping fees work to increase recycling rates, why are higher co-pays and health care premium costs sharing helping us to become better consumers of health care, why do tax credits work to reduce energy consumption and so on? Incentives work.
Water usage comes with a substantial cost to the environment. There is the environmental cost associated with:
a. Removing water from our rivers and/or water tables.
b. The power to pump, purify and process the waste stream.
c. The chlorine and other chemicals used to purify the water and treat the waste stream.
Additionally, there are the downstream impacts and life cycle costs associated with 'power production' and 'chemical manufacturing.'
If we truly wish our community, the city and its residents, to be more sustainable we need to have in place incentives to be better stewards of our resources. Existing water charges presently do not capture the true or total cost of city provided water.
I have a great deal of respect for the opinions voiced by those opposed to the tiered water rate proposal the council has adopted. Most of those concerns focused on what I would identify as 'personal choices' - larger homes, larger families, larger properties and so on. I do understand these concerns, but I cannot accept them as such given our growing population in an environment with ever decreasing resources.
In summary: Consumers will adapt their consumption practices based upon the cost of the product. The transition to a higher price structure comes with over 6 months of advance notice. In reality, most consumers will wait for the impact before 'waking up,' but for those who want to be pro-active there is a great deal each of us can do to mitigate the financial impact of higher water prices. For example, five-minute showers, dual flush toilets, water audits, drip irrigation versus sprinkler systems, rain water harvesting, and the list goes on.
Additionally, we all need to be aware that lower water usage will reduce the sewer charge that appears on our water invoice.
Thank you for your courage to stand-up for what is a significant step in our efforts to conserve our precious water resources.
Grant Watkinson is a Lake Oswego resident.