Monday, April 25, 2011

Water Use Slowing but Rates Increase

Water use in at least one Arizona metro area seems to be slowing according to a news item reported several times on KJZZ, an NPR radio station in Tempe, and the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.  

Despite an increasing population in the Tucson Water Service Area, served by several utilities, water use is only slightly higher than a decade ago.

Use is even less when calculated on a per-person basis.  That number has dropped from 164 to 133 gallons per day since the year 2000.

Reasons for this decline are only speculative but range from the slower economy to residents’ changes in income, household water bills, their attitudes about their financial future, and even their mortgage situation asserts Gary Woodard, an associate director of hydrology and water resources at the University of Arizona.

However, the water utilities want the economics to cut two ways. 

When supply is adequate and demand drops as it has in some communities, prices should decrease . . . at least according to our laws of supply and demand.  Because demand has dropped, the water utilities shouldn't cry poor because of sliding revenues and shouldn't charge higher rates to remedy their problem.

But, that’s exactly what they’re doing by proposing an 8.2% increase for fiscal 2011 – 2012.

The solution, says a friend with former ties to Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission, is to establish a similar organization in Arizona that would regulate rates, not with an eye to profit but what utility rates are necessary to cover costs.

That may be too much to expect short term but what we can count on, long term, is more expensive water.

To review background on this, click on the following link:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Water Resources and City Economics

The growing risk of water shortages in the Verde Valley and throughout the state of Arizona will have a direct effect on the bond ratings of the cities involved, says an opinion piece in the October 20, 2010, New York Times

Snowmelt is regional  and usually doesn't reach the broader environment
While lowered bond ratings are not currently a problem for many communities in this area, it likely could be in the future.

Part of this liability is due to local squabbling for this resource, commonly referred to as “water wars”, and the attendant legal costs that drain municipal budgets.

“Municipal bonds are bought and sold on the basis of their credit ratings,” the NY Times article reminds us, “yet today these ratings take little account of utilities’ vulnerability to increased water competition.”

Pursuing a cautious perspective against future water costs, the city of Cottonwood bought several water companies in surrounding areas and shortly thereafter raised the rates.  In an editorial of August 22, 2010, the Verde Independent characterized this buying as a “spending spree” and suggested the city follow the advice of its financial director, Rudy Rodriguez, to go on a PR offensive “so people understand why the attendant rate hike is necessary and important.”

The Verde Independent is correct that the city should communicate its intentions to its residents.  It's just good politics to tell taxpayers how the city is spending its/their money...and why. 

Rates, by the way, were decreased at the lowest use levels but, none-the-less, raised at higher levels.
There was a river but vegetation didn't know it.
It seems reasonable to give breaks to “minimal” users and raise rates for large users.  In other words, conservative water users will be charged the same or less than before the rate increase and “excessive” users would be charged at increased rates.

What is essential is that people realize we are living in the desert where water is scarce and finding a path to sustainable use can be complex. . .water is a limited commodity and should be expensive. 

Cottonwood officials realized that water use will be governed by our wallets and it was a far-sighted city administration that intelligently planned for the city’s future.

Of course, the saga of Cottonwood-water has a negative side.  According to a local resident the city is again planning to alter its rates upward because decreased water use has put a dent in anticipated revenue.  
Cliffs, Mesas, Water.

But, the Arizona Republic has another take.  In an April 15, 2011 article focusing on Phoenix, the newspaper wrote, "Residents Should Know Who Is Behind Water-Rate Hikes".  The paper claims the projected increase is due to the State of Arizona withdrawing $7 million in funding from the Arizona Dept. of Water Resources and shifting the burden to cities. The AR pins blame on Gov. Jan Brewer.

In either case the Arizona Republic echoes the Verde Independent in calling for better communication between city administrations and their residents. 

The likelihood is residents won’t like what they hear.  Water is going to be expensive…very expensive. . .and it should be because water in the desert is a scarce commodity. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ed Abbey and Legacy

Never thought I'd like Ed Abbey. 
My neighbor, an environmentalist, liked him but I had to survive at the time on the publicity of Abbey that made its way east.  
The publicity wasn't good. . . I never liked the "monkey wrenching" element of it.
I suspect he valued his freedom, however.
Freedom from officials that intruded on his space.
Freedom from the effects of our political system. That was probably tough to do as head ranger at Organ Pipe National Monument on the border with Mexico and his employer was the US Government.
He came to terms, however.
I'll have to, also... 
Come to terms with the fact that big guys with guns now patrol this area. That they have every reason to intrude on my small patch of the Southwest.  That they can demand I talk to them, smile and imply that if I don't do what they say I'll be shot.
My small patch is filled with images at sunset, places I'd like to wander at dawn, quiet places except for the hum of bees.  I'd like to imagine it doesn't include big-guys-with-guns.