Survey says: water bills are rising

In the West and around the nation, the price of water keeps going up.

Since 2010, Circle of Blue has been gathering water rate data in the 20 largest U.S. cities, plus 10 regionally representative cities. From 2011 to 2012, single-family residential water prices rose an average of 7.3 percent; since 2010, the increase is nearly 18 percent.

The graphics below show how water bills have changed in Western cities. One interesting feature of these charts is that they analyze water use under three different scenarios: low use (50 gallons per person daily), medium use (100 gallons per person daily), and high (150 gallons per person daily.) To promote conservation, many Western utilities have a progressive rate structure, which charges customers more per gallon if their use exceeds certain thresholds.

Mountain west water rates

Mountain Water PriceWest coast water rates WestCoastWaterPrice

On the national level, the price of water is rising at a pace much faster than the overall rate of inflation. The graphic below, from the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University, compares the costs of various utilities and water/sewer bills really stand out.

Trends in utility prices

CPItrends Many Western utilities are searching for new (expensive) supplies to meet the rising demands of the growing customer base, putting upward pressure on rates. But the nation’s crumbling water works are perhaps an even bigger driver of the increasing costs, as Circle of Blue notes:

The upward trend for rates is an inherent feature of the water sector. Compared with other utilities, water departments require significantly more assets — pumps, pipes, and plants — to generate revenue. All of that hardware is expensive to maintain, and, as the fountain of water main breaks across the U.S. attests, a good portion of this infrastructure has come to the end of its effective life. The American Water Works Association recently estimated that replacing the nation’s pipes alone will cost $US 1 trillion over the next 25 years. Most of this will come from ratepayers, who pay as much as 99 percent of all money that is spent on water supply systems, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors

Rising prices are generally portrayed as a bad thing in the media, and I’d just as soon spend my money on something other than my monthly water bill, but the bright side to increasing prices is that it can encourage more efficient water use.

For more on these issues, check out our water deck, which includes some slides on the price of water and the sorry state of our nation’s water infrastructure.

EcoWest’s mission is to analyze, visualize, and share data on environmental trends in the North American West. Please subscribe to our RSS feed, opt-in for email updates, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.

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