The Newest California Tax Scheme: Jacking Your Water Rates
Earlier this year the State of California mandated that public water agencies throughout the state implement reductions in water use by 25 percent statewide from 2013 levels due to the ongoing drought. Many water agencies were required to reduce water consumption by as much as 36 percent.
The state surpassed the 25 percent savings, with only a few water agencies being fined (one being the City of Redlands.)
Congratulations are due to Californians and their successful efforts to save water. Certainly, during any drought, conservation of water is important. Hopefully this drought, and its eventual end, will cause California to analyze and resolve certain water policy issues that exacerbated the current situation such as the following matters.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California 50 percent of water used in the state is for “environmental” purposes, while 40 percent is for agriculture and a mere 10 percent is urban. Yet, California’s water conservation efforts are focused on the “10 percent” of use related to watering lawns, taking showers and flushing toilets.
The State of California, despite having passed numerous water bonds over the past 4 decades has not developed a single significant water project since the 1960’s. The last major attempt at any statewide project was the Peripheral Canal in the 1980’s which died. No major storage facilities have been built by the state, but some have been completed by local agencies (Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet is an example.)
California currently has no plans to develop more storage or ground water capture facilities.
With all of these factors out in the open, there is one thing that is very clear: regardless of how soon California pulls out of this latest drought, which may be as early as this year, California residents will pay much more for the water they use (or don’t use) in the future regardless of their conservation efforts.
While California is hauling in record tax revenues due to increasing property values and increased incomes in the technology sector of the economy, none of those revenues are being invested in efforts to develop new long term storage or water transmission projects that should have been built years ago to meet our population growth. Instead, California has surmised, falsely, that future water needs can be resolved solely through conservation. But while conservation has successfully reduced water usage even as population growth ensued, you can’t solve 100 percent of the state’s water problem by addressing only 10 percent of water users.
Now, the agencies that provide water to residential and nonagricultural consumers are proposing to hike water rates, because we Californians have saved so much water that the water agencies cannot cover their operating costs based on current rates. This is because a pipe in the ground costs the same to build and maintain whether it carries 1000 gallons of water or 10.
Water agencies, through forced conservation mandates manipulated by state government, are attempting to create new tiered rate structures to encourage water conservation based in part on the assumption that current conservation levels must last in perpetuity.
This is a false assumption that precludes policy changes in California that could either reduce the level of water allocated to environmental purposes (after all, the Delta Smelt will soon be extinct) or increase the development of better water transmission, storage, technology or of new supplies.
There is simply no logical reason to assume that water conservation activity must be maintained at record drought levels when the drought ends. The ONLY reason that would be necessary, is if the State of California WANTS to keep water rates high in order to separate Californians from even more of their hard earned dollars.
The argument that California is in a record drought today and that therefore Californian’s must permanently give up their green lawns and pools forever or face future disaster is a false dichotomy. It is a false choice that incorrectly assumes that the drought will go on indefinitely and that water solutions other than extreme conservation cannot be created. As California has proven over and over again, these scenarios are not true.
These are false choices created by politicians like Jerry Brown who only want to control our behavior and jack our water rates, and extreme environmentalists who despise human and economic growth. If Jerry Brown and his extremist friends want to skip showers, that is their choice and their spouse’s problems, not ours.