6.19.2010

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About My Water Bill


It's not every day you can blog about your water bill. But indeed that day has come. This month's water bill included a fact sheet on the shift, as of July 1, towards more of your bill consisting of the extent to which your property contributes to stormwater run-off. (I had previewed this shift in a post last year.)

It appears that residential properties will be charged equally, based on a citywide average of lot size and impervious coverage. I'm a little nervous about this, because it means there is slightly less incentive for homeowners to conserve, since actual water usage is now less a part of your bill. Maybe someday, we'll have higher usage fees, as well as more of a connect between usage and fee - it can be easy to not make the connection between usage and fee when you use water every day but only see the bill for it once a month. Those would be the sort of things that would encourage shorter showers, figuring out how to capture greywater for other purposes, and so on.

The real shift, though, is not on the residential side but on the commercial side, where a determination of impervious coverage has been made and a good chunk of the bill will reflect that. You're going to have a lot of accounts not change much, some go down by a little, some go up by a little, and some go up by a lot. And when I say, "a lot," I mean, "I used to pay $50 a month and now it's going to be $5,000." (Think auto-oriented shopping malls surrounded by sprawling parking lots.) I predict lots of appeals.

The phase-in period, which I had first understood to be two years, has been lengthened to four years, which I suppose is a fair length of time to make whatever adjustments would be worth making (i.e. replacing impervious surfaces with pervious ones). And, the real difference-maker is going to be for new construction, as builders bake this new way of billing into the cost-benefit calculations of their designs.

You can go here for more information on the transition. As noted, more could be done here, but this is a bold and ballsy step by the Philadelphia Water Department. Let's keep an eye out on how this plays out.

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