Knowing The Value Of Water

Despite a wet winter, Texas is far from being drought-free. In fact, water waste is a huge issue with leaking and broken pipes, or excessive watering. One environmental attorney thinks we'd be better off if we had more of a conservation mind set.

One of the challenges with water usage in Texas is trying to bridge the gap between value and pricing. Amy Hardberger is an attorney with the Texas chapter of the Environmental Defense Fund. She thinks water is under-priced for its importance, which often times leads to waste. She’s familiar with Houston’s bursting water pipes last summer, where breaks were occurring at a rate of 700 a day, up from the usual rate of 200 a day.

“Unfortunately, a lot of cities are having to deal with old infrastructure, and in some places this is more problematic than other places where you have a lot of ground shifting issues. If you have old infrastructure, you’re gonna have increased points of breakage and leakage, but it’s not gonna be generally more expensive than finding new supplies.”

Alvin Wright is with City of Houston’s Public Works and Engineering Department. He says slow but steady strides are being made with water pipe repair.

“We’ve got contractors who are in place right now, who are actually helping us to keep things under control. We’re repairing them as fast as we possibly can, in regards to the scenario that we have, the cold and the hot weather. Does it mean that there’s something wrong with the system? Not necessarily. It just means that we are no different than any other major city that has infrastructure underground. If it’s underground, the ground will shift and pipes will break.”

A lot of cities lose about 15 percent of their water supply into the ground, and fixing old infrastructure can save a lot water and reflect that importance. Once again, environmental attorney Amy Hardberger.

“If we think about recapturing this lost water as a supply measure, then the price of that replacement becomes more reasonable.”

PH: “Amy, is it our responsibility, or the responsibility of utilities to make us aware that it’s not okay to waste such a precious commodity?”

Hardberger: “Well, I think that there needs to be a relationship between the two. And so, I think the more that people understand how much these systems cost, you can have sort of a changing valuation with each person, and that can also help with the reduction of waste at the home level.”

Hardberger favors structuring water bills to be conservation oriented.

“For people who want lush green lawns in the middle of a drought summer, obviously if there’s watering limitations, they’ll still have to abide by those. So, we don’t want to be punitive for people with basic water needs, but we do want to be more punitive for sort of, luxury water, for lack of a better word.”

Generally, consumers pay more for the actual service like infrastructure replacement and not as much for the water itself.