Here in the Northeast, conservation is a double-edged sword. The problem is that less usage generates less revenue. Consider that fact in light of the dramatically rising capital costs to build water treatment facilities to meet unfunded mandates from federal and state agencies and the concomitant O&M to keep them operating (the facilities, not the agencies!). So, the classical market forces actually exacerbate the situation. It’s a vexing paradox that we have confronted for years in Acton, Mass. in terms of encouraging water conservation through low-volume flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, and drought-tolerant landscaping. By achieving success in conservation, less product flows through meters and less revenue is generated. Yet for the greater good seen in the context of ensuring ample supply for fire-fighting during high-use spring and summer months and also from the perspective of long-term aquifer management (all of our wells tap shallow aquifers), we Commissioners and our District Manager have encouraged conservation. New requirements for water treatment are adding orders of magnitude (literally) of impact on our budget. We have recently build one $6.5M treatment plant and are planning another that is pencilling out at over $8M so far. However, total annual revenues amount to roughly half to 2/3 of the cost of ONE treatment plant. We are confronting an escalation in costs that is simply unprecedented in magnitude and will have major effect on water rates. I wonder how much of this problem of escalating treatment costs we are sharing with other water districts around the nation?
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