3:26:15 Sacrificing for a Lower Water Bill

A few years ago, I wrote about Portland's runaway utility bill here. The City Water Bureau charges for more than simple water use; they've got a massive rebuild of our aging sewers underway with attendant cost seemingly to be "shared" for lifetimes.

So if one uses $1 of water, the billing rate structure has to tack on another $2.50 for sewer charges.

[water bill]

The good thing about the sewer charge is that it's only calculated once a year--during the winter quarter from mid-December to mid-March. The thinking is all water used during the winter goes into the sewer, unlike spring and summer when lawns and gardens get ground-soaking water. Thus, the winter quarter reading is assumed closer to true sewer usage.

Obviously, the winter quarter would be a good time for a long vacation to drive down water usage.

Lacking that option, I did the next best thing: conserved water in a draconian way. No running taps, ever. Brushing teeth with 6 oz. of water. Dishwasher set on "Quick Wash" and run every other day. The essential daily showers--mostly cold--came in at 90-120 seconds. Need I mention flushing the toilet once a day?

A lot of sacrifice for three months. Did it pay off?

The answer is yes and no.

I saw the water-meter reader come by a few weeks ago and do a wireless reading to his handheld computer from the meter at the curbyard and go on his way up the street to everyone else's meters.

Fortunately, I could visually check the meter myself, after he left. I took the reading and compared it with the last bill's reading.

Three month water usage went from 17 CCF (hundred cubic feet) to 6 CCF, or 35% of the previous quarter. The water bill the other day confirmed the same figure of 6 CCF.

This led to a drop from the prior water bill of $320 to $190--a decrease of $130--but not quite reflective of that huge drop in water usage.

Let me explain.

There are sizable fixed costs (the City Water Bureau gets creative here) that don't vary with water usage. Those amount to $120 every quarter. Merely having a water account means they have to be paid. Water conservation doesn't reduce them one whit.

Without going through all the accounting, my water conservation locked in that 6 CCF low sewer cost for the next three quarters. That saves $100 each quarter. So, all told, an overall savings of $400 yearly.

The catch is if I want to keep this up in the future, next winter quarter will call for the similar sacrifice or I go back to $300+ quarterly water bills. But after three months, I've got a conservation habit.

Image credit: City of Portland Water Bureau


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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.



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