DECREASING WATER DEMANDS VS INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS
Earlier this year the Journal for AWWA had several articles about water use and infrastructure needs. One of the major concerns that has arisen in older communities, especially in the Rust Belt and the West is that demands per person have decreased. There are a number of reasons for this –the 1992 Energy Policy Act changes to plumbing codes that implemented low flush fixtures, the realization in the west that water supplies are finite and conservation is cheaper than new supplies, a decline in population, deindustrialization, and climate induced needs. But all add up to the result that total water use has not really changed over the past 30 years and in many locales, water sales may have decreased. Water utilities rely on water sales for revenues so any decrease in sales must be met with an increase in cost. Price elasticity suggests the increase will be met with another decrease in sales, etc. It is a difficult circle to deal with. So less water, whether through deliberate water conservation or other means, creates a water revenue dilemma for utilities. A concern about conserving to much and eliminating slack in the system also results.
Less water means less money for infrastructure. Communities do not see a need for new infrastructure because there are fewer new people to serve. Replacing old infrastructure has always been a more difficult sell because “I already have service, why should I be paying for more service” is a common cry, unless you are in my neighborhood where the water pipes keep breaking and we are begging the City to install new lines (they are on my street J) Educating customers about the water (and sewer) system are needed to help resident understand the impacts, and risk they face as infrastructure ages. They also want to understand that the solutions are “permanent” meaning that in 5 or 10 years we won’t be back to do more work. Elected officials and projected elected officials (the tough one) should be engaged in this discussion because they should all be on the same page in selling the ideas to the public. And the needs are big. We are looking at $1 trillion just for water line replacement by 2050 and that is probably a low number(2010 dollars). The biggest needs are in the south where infrastructure will start hitting its expected life. The south want west will also be looking for about $700 billion in growth needs as well. All this will cause a need for higher rates, especially with ¼ less low interest SRF funds avaialalbe this year from Congress.