Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Chuck Bowen


What you pay for water

Cover Feature: The Water Issue

Combined water, sewer and stormwater prices for households in 21 major cities

August 3, 2015

If you look at a map of the country, you’d be hard pressed to find much logic to the price of water. It costs just as much for 100 gallons of water in Boston as it does in Los Angeles (about $82), and less than half as much in Las Vegas ($44) as in Seattle ($99).

The price for 100 gallons of water – what the EPA says is the average an American uses each day – varies dramatically throughout the country, according to a recent study of water, sewer and stormwater rates from Circle of Blue, a Michigan-based non-profit that reports on freshwater.

“Prices are going up pretty much everywhere,” says Brett Walton, a reporter with Circle of Blue. And what’s driving those prices isn’t geography, but infrastructure. “The price of water isn’t tied all that closely to scarcity. Prices are what it costs to treat and deliver.”

Many cities are coupling price increases with efforts to find or make more water.

San Antonio plans to pipe in water from farms 142 miles away. A private company is building a $1-billion desalination plant in San Diego that it says will produce 50 million gallons of fresh water a day. In 2014, two small towns in West Texas started pumping treated wastewater directly to municipal taps.

However cities are finding new water, one fact remains: Prices are only going one way. “They’re not going to go back down,” Walton says. “That’s for sure.”

– Chuck Bowen

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