Water, Water, Not Everywhere

As the weather warms but the drought persists, we're reading more and more concern about swimming pools. I've been trying to figure out whether a distinction between public and private residential pools exists or is under consideration. The media get quotes or sound bites from places like the Meadowmont Pool or the Y, expressing great concern about what will happen over the summer. Meanwhile, I'm only seeing generic comments about not filling or topping off residential pools -- to the effect that if you can't top off, the pool becomes unusable.

At present, are all pools, regardless of size, capacity, ownership, or function, subject to the same regs, now or at the next stage? Seems to me there's a reasonable argument for trying to keep municipal and recreational pools that serve large populations up and running through what could be a rough summer, while there's much less argument for exempting private pools, especially the single-owner residential pools. (I admit I'm on the fence about motel/hotel pools -- not persuaded that an empty pool would turn away visitors and thereby cut drastically into local revenues. If there's a drought and you have to ask for a glass of water in the restaurant, it should be obvious why a pool is closed.)



to answer a question that came to me in the shower this AM?


Why do I have to pay more (higher rate) for my water simply because I have 4 people living in my house while my neighbor only has 2 and thus can easily stay under the arbitrary clip levels that trigger rate increases and surcharges?


Isn't this what the equal protection clause of the constitution is all about? If I use the same amount of water per person as my neighbor, why do I have to pay more?

I don't think equal protection covers public utilities or anything to do with billing.

OWASA is a publicly regulated monopoly, so if the rate commission approves it they can charge it.

On another note, if you are using more water, you pay more for it. It is a resource. If you drive an SUV with 4 people in it, technically you may be getting the same mileage as a Prius with one person on the highway.

However, I still think it will cost more to fill up the SUV than the Prius.

The bottom line is that OWASA needs us to conserve water.

Essentially, OWASA has removed the subsidies that we have been getting on water.

I have always wondered why people will pay $1.50 for a 16 oz bottle of water and complain about paying $5.00 for 1,000 gallons.


--Freedom is not just another word

But you can't argue that it is completely arbitrary that I should pay more than my neighbor if we use the same amount of water per person. How many people use the same meter has absolutely zero to do with cost of service or actual consumption that should drive OWASA's charges.


From a report on the OWASA web site: "OWASA is legally bound to set its
rates and fees according to “cost of service” rinciples — based on the actual capital and perating costs of the services provided."

How does the surcharge (levied by the meter, not the # of persons using the water) equate to actual costs? It only makes it cheaper for OWASA for us to have 4 people on one meter, so it makes no sense for us to pay more.

Again, this doesn't have anything to do with the goal to conserve --- if anything, I'm suggesting that we aren't doing enough to encourage single or double person households to save by charging by the meter. At a minimum, it isn't spread fairly.



OWASA did detailed studies on the cost of providing different levels of water.  Those studies are the basis for the rates being charged.  The price points are not arbitrary.

In any case, there are many households of four people that are using 2K gallons per month - the lowest price point.  It can be done.

If you want to be billed per individual there's a simple solution: ask OWASA to install 4 separate meters in your home and send you 4 separate bills. Otherwise you pay as a household and as a household of 4 you are probably using a lot more than a household of two. Your remark about hatching this question while in the shower reminds me of the ad on TV for a mobile phone carrier: what do you think about when you aren't worrying about your cell phone minutes?: questions like "can you buy something specific in a general store?"

I can only hope that you weren't serious about OWASA's billing policy being a violation of constitutional law. :)

The real answer, of course, is that is just plain easier for OWASA to determine usage by meter instead of usage by person. But that doesn't seem to me to make it fair.

If 2 people are using 1500 gallons a month a piece, and my family is using the same by 4 people, why should I pay a higher rate? We both should be using less water, but only I am being punished for it.



The  local governments (Carrboro, Orange County, & Chapel Hill) appoint board members and they set the rates. The Utility Commission is not involved.

What I do know is that we have been hovering around 3,000 gallons forever... Maybe, I am just dumb, but paying $40 a month for water feels better than paying $40 for gas twice a month...

I don't have time to think in the shower anymore. My showers are too short now...

Thanks for the clarification Mark.


--Freedom is not just another word

I'm trying to be one of those 4 person households using 2K or less per month.   Not there yet, but I am very impressed with how hard my family has worked to reduce our water consumption.    I'm out of ideas other than buying a new washing machine or dishwasher, which I can't afford right now.  I'd appreciate some ideas that take it to the next step.  We've adjusted our toilets down to the absolute minimum, put the low flow showerheads on and turn off water when we lather,  catch the water for toilet flushing, pretty sure we're not leaking anywhere, don't water anything---where do you squeeze the next round of water savings from? 

Anita--another way to look at your goal is per person per day. A 4-person household using 2,000 gallons of water in a 30-day billing cycle is using about 17 gallons (or 65 liters) per person per day.

One researcher I've read proposes that the basic water requirement per individual per day is 50 liters (13.2 gallons).

Drinking water.......5 liters (1.3 gallons)
Sanitation............20 liters (5.3 gallons)
Bathing...............15 liters (4 gallons)
Food preparation...10 liters (2.6 gallons)

Daily showers are my big obstacle to overcome!


WATER: THE CYCLE of LIFE:  A Water Resources and the Future of Orange County Symposium

Come on out Sunday, March 9, 2008, 2:30-4:30 PM

Southern Human Services Building, 2501 Homestead Rd. Chapel Hill, NC

The "experts" on the panel will discuss quantity, quality and what we the users of surface and ground water can do.

It seems there is a lot of talk about households conserving water but aren't businesses responsible for the majority of water drawn from OWASA?

What programs has OWASA and the Town instituted to reduce their comsumption? I can't even find the rates they have to pay on the web site.

I think it is 1.25 times the peak rate? That does not seem like much of an increase.


The OWASA site also says:

Rates for businesses, institutions, other non-residential customers and for multi-family developments with master meters (one meter serves multiple residences)
In Stage 3 and Emergency water shortages, the surcharged water rate is 1.25 times the peak seasonal water rate of $5.85 per 1,000 gallons, for a surcharged rate of $7.31 per 1,000 gallons.

Water conservation by businesses is important, and many of them are pretty active in doing what they can.  Some restaurants are using paper products,  hotels have switched out shower heads and don't change linens except on request.  

 I think business water usage is much more impacted at  the level of equipment---more water efficient dishwashers, toilets, washing machines, shower heads,  and so forth.     It's very expensive to change out equipment once you're open and operating.      There are so many people involved in turning on the tap at a hotel or in a restaurant, for example, that it's pretty difficult to change behaviors at the individual level.   I can play water czar at my house because there are only 4 of us, but you can't really tell a hotel guest to turn off the shower whle he lathers up........

I was on the OWASA borad for 6 years. Every year OWASA has a public hearing to discuss rates. In all the 6 years I was on the board only one person showed up to state his views. He later was appointed to the board. Comments and concerns are important. Why not come to the public hearings? Why wait until your 3 minute shower during a drought to get involved?

penny rich

Re: the piechart Fred provided: 8% unaccounted for? That's a hefty chunk. Is this a standard problem in all water districts? Is there a standard assumption about where it goes?

Actually, 8% isn't that bad. Internationally, some cities have well over 50% of their water supply unaccounted. In the United States, I've seen 11% cited as an average number, though I'm sure there are plenty of studies that point above and below this. It's something I'm sure OWASA is constantly working to improve, but I'm equally sure that leaks and inaccurate metering aren't disappearing anytime soon. Check out this entry at the Water Wiki from the UNC School of Government. They cite 12% as the NC average:


Thanks for that, Jason.  It's amazing where water goes.  In looking at some data published by the American Water Works Association, they show the following results for before and after efficiency measures:

Water Use Statistics

Daily indoor per capita water use in the typical single family home is 69.3 gallons. Here is how it breaks down:


Gallons per Capita

Percentage of Total Daily Use




Clothes Washers


















Other Domestic Uses



By installing more efficient water fixtures and regularly checking for leaks, households can reduce daily per capita water use by about 35% to about 45.2 gallons per day Here's how it breaks down for households using conservation measures:


Gallons per Capita

Percentage of Total Daily Use




Clothes Washers


















Other Domestic Uses



Source: Handbook of Water Use and Conservation, Amy Vickers

Note the leakage percents in each case. With effiency measures, it's a whopping 8.8% a day!

I know I need to lose a little weight, but even at my very skinniest, I could not have taken a bath in 1.2 gallons of water!

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