Water utilities need to be prepared to meet the highest possible demand for water on any given day. This means that utilities are required to constantly invest in infrastructure like storage tanks and pipelines, water supply, and ongoing operation and maintenance costs. However, the more investments utilities make, the higher water rates climb. As a result, water rates have been rising faster than inflation in many parts of California. Importantly, the more customers conserve, the less investments utilities need to make, and the greater the savings for everyone. One study found that, in Los Angeles, conservation and efficiency improvements resulted in over $9 billion of avoided capital costs.
The issue with this system is that different customers have different water needs. Customers who conserve the most are tied to the same system, and the same costs, as the customers who use the most. Even for the most water conscious, their water bills will rise when their utility needs to invest in additional infrastructure and supply. And often, the need to invest is driven by large, affluent, single-family residences. According to SPUR, homes with larger lots and neighborhoods with fewer homes tend to use more water per household. In addition, low-income communities tend to have less tree cover and overall greenspace. As a result, the highest possible demand on any given day is dictated by the large, affluent single-family residences in a water system yet everyone has to pay for these investments.
To make sure that these costs are well understood, California Coastkeeper Alliance is working with Assemblymember Papan on Assembly Bill 755. This bill requires public utilities to take a hard look at how the top 10% of single-family residential water users have driven systemwide costs for everyone. It will shine a spotlight on inequities in water rates and will help ensure that water is affordable for all. Right now, the system forces those who conserve to subsidize water prices for those who use the most. This bill will help put an end to that backwards approach.
Stay informed of our legislative work and our efforts to protect California’s waters by subscribing to California Coastkeeper Alliance’s monthly newsletter, becoming a lifetime member, or following us on social media: @CA_Waterkeepers.
Policy Analyst Cody Phillips advocates for statewide policies that protect water quality and access to clean water throughout California.