How Does Government Reward Conservation? Higher Rates


Call it the paradox of conservation. The local water board is raising rates because people in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia aren't using enough water. As the local weekly newspaper The Hook reports:

Declining useage means that local water bills are getting a double-digit increase, as the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority's five-member board voted unanimously Monday, February 23 for wholesale water/sewer rates to climb nearly 11 percent in the city and 12 percent in the county— nearly double last year's increase.

"Rates must increase due mainly to lower flows," says the Authority's budget. "Although logic would seem to prescribe that lower flows would mean lower rates, the opposite is true when there are large fixed costs."

The region has experienced some droughts in recent years. Consequently, the public has been pummeled with public service messages telling them not to run the faucet while brushing their teeth and to use their dishwashers only when they are completely full. Apparently, the public listened and now this is their reward. 

Of course, the water authorities explain it a bit differently, arguing that their water restrictions resulted in lower use. Well, OK. Whether the citizens used less water voluntarily or because they were commanded to do so, hiking their water rates for using less seems more like a punishment for what the authorities were calling good behavior. 

And yes, this is the same county that plans to boost its property tax rate because housing values have fallen. 

Disclosure: I am a bemused resident of the People's Republic of Charlottesville.