As I’ve mentioned before, China has some issues when it comes to building infrastructure that is out of sight and less than prestigious, like stormwater and wastewater treatment. Many places in the US also try to keep their water and sewer rates low for customers, putting off key maintenance and upgrades for the next generation. The West can’t afford this. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has increased its rates 5% per year for the next two years, annoying many of its customers, largely to accommodate the bills for repairs and increasing the system reliability. Utah’s lawmakers are getting some difficult news, too — a plan is up for vote to fund $13.7 billion over 20 years to fund necessary repairs and upgrades. Better to allocate the money now, rather than wait until the dams are empty and the taps are dry…
“People have a hard time getting excited about water and sewer projects, even though they are very fundamental and basic components of our day-to-day life,” said Mike Wilson, manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake and Sandy.
Systems have routine operations and maintenance budgets, but often punt on wholesale replacement due to the huge capital costs. One idea is to build in a 3-5% annual rate increase for the bond to fund all this work.
“These systems are out of sight and out of mind,” Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said. “Some communities, to their detriment and unhappiness, are loath to raise rates, and when something cataclysmic happens, that is when you see the huge rates come. But they’d rather get beat up harshly every 10 years then face it every year.”
Baker said it takes financial savvy and foresight — as well as political will — to muster a savings account that can help pay for huge infrastructure needs and to put in upgrades to keep pace with growth. “There’s not a lot of heroism in doing that. Cities like to build trails, parks and statues. Bringing in a sewer system is not very sexy. The tendency is to let that happen under some other mayor.”
Thankfully for some parts of the US, we have some political officials who get that point, and act on it. The political officials who don’t act may be more popular in the short-term, but their constituents will not be better off in the end. To quote the savvy Pat Mulroy: “Yeah, you have a basic human right to water. Here’s your bucket, you can go down to Lake Mead, and you can take all the water out of Lake Mead that you want. But you don’t have the basic human right to have that water treated to an absolute guaranteed safe standard, delivered to your home in whatever quantities you want to use.”