A Water Ethic

Earlier this month, the Suffolk County Water Authority announced it would adopt a new tiered rate structure requiring those customers whose water use exceeds a certain threshold to pay more.

SCWA said it took the step to both promote water conservation and help it generate more revenue as it faces higher costs. The water authority is particularly worried about anticipated new stricter limits on the levels of PFOS and PFOA that would be allowed in the drinking water by New York State. Removing the chemicals, which are found in a number of household products, will require expensive filtering, SCWA says.

As part of its new rate structure, the water authority will charge customers who use more than 78,540 gallons a quarter $2.34 for each 1000 gallons used. Most customers use about half that amount, or 40,000 gallons, each quarter. They will be charged just under $2.03 per 1000 gallons, which is still an increase of eight cents per 1000 gallons over the old rate.

When an average shower uses about 17 gallons of water and an average toilet flush consumes another couple of gallons, it is difficult to fathom how any household could use more than 40,000 gallons a quarter, let alone a year. But when you factor in swimming pools and lawn sprinkler systems, it’s a little easier to do.

Establishing a progressive rate structure is a smart way for the water authority to increase revenue. Nobody would argue that the homeowner who installs water-saving showerheads, efficient toilets, and allows the lawn to turn brown during summer droughts should be required to subsidize water hogs, whose automatic sprinkler systems turn on even when it is raining.

But while a steep price increase may encourage those whose water use flirts with the higher threshold to throttle back, it is doubtful it will do anything to discourage some of the biggest water guzzlers, the estates where millions of gallons are used each year to keep the lawn and grounds as verdant as the Augusta Golf Club, where the Masters Golf Tournament was held this week.

With growing demand on our sole-source aquifer and danger to its purity from all sorts of pollutants on the rise, the only way to discourage use, short of a rationing system, is to encourage a new sense of responsibility, a water ethic, if you would, that would teach people to recognize that the value of their water is ultimately higher than the price on their quarterly bill.