DSCF0032Curtailed water use and conservation are common topics of conversation in areas with water supplies limitations.  As drought conditions worsen, the need for action increases, so when creating a regulatory framework, or when trying to measure water use efficiency, water supply managers often look for easily applied metrics to determine where water use can be curtailed.  Unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all mentality comes with a potential price of failing to fully grasp the consequences decision-making based on such metrics.

One of the issues that water supply regulator like to use is per capita water use.  Per capital water use is often used to show where there is “wasted” water use, such as excessive irrigation.  However such a metric may not be truly applicable depending on other economic factors, and may even penalize successful communities with diverse economic bases.  A heavy industrial area or dense downtown commercial center may add to apparent per capita use, but is actually the result of vibrant economic activity. Large employment centers tend to have higher per capital use than their neighbors as a result of attracting employees to downtown, which are not included in the population.

In south Florida, a recent project I was involved with with one of my students showed that while there was significant variability among utilities, but the general trend of increased economic activity was related to increased per capita use.  Among the significant actors were health care, retail trade, food service and scientific and technical services.  It appears to be these sectors that drive water use upward.  As a result when evaluating the efficiency of a utility, an analysis should be conducted on the economic sectors to insure that water regulations do not stifle economic growth and jobs in a community.   And conversely if you do not have these sectors, you water use should be lower.  Something to think about when projecting or regulating water use.  Limited water use may in fact be limiting economic activity in the area. Of course if you are water limited, limited new withdrawals may be perfectly acceptable if you want to encourage other options, like direct or indirect potable reuse, irrigation, etc.  

It would be interesting to expand this study across the country to see what the national trends look like and how different tourism oriented South Florida might actually be.


Sequestration is the word we are all using to explain the failure of the Congress to put together a budget with appropriate revenues and expenditures.  Congress can’t figure out how to reach a budget agreement, so the federal government set itself up for mandatory cuts in services. I had a recent grant sequestered, then cancelled.  It really could have helped a local community with long-term water supply and quality problems identify adaptation and mitigation strategies fo rites future.  Minor money for Washington, but a big deal down here.  Likewise I have spent the last 6 months on a subcommittee for USGS that is focusing on what could be cut from USGS.  That means less testing water quality, water levels in groundwater, stream gauges and less evaluation of results.  Most of the water issues USGS looks at crosses local and even state lines.  Since we all rely on water, this is at national concern.  Precisely when we need the information most, we may be getting less.  Expect to start seeing more sequestration issues. 



The problem is that the biggest expenses, social security and debt, cannot be cut without major backlash in the financial and voter markets.  So the cuts come from the smaller accounts – things like the federal share of state revolving funds, water research and water/wastewater programs.  The community and tribal assistance account was slashed $210 million while the environmental program budget was cut $135 million. While some may be cheering EPA cutbacks, the reality for water and wastewater users is less federal assistance to our industry.  That means more of the onus is on us, and on our customers.  The  unintended consequences of the failure of Congress to act….

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