The Environmental Protection Agency considers water to be affordable if the cost of water is 2% or less of a household’s income and the combined cost of water and sewer represents 4.5% or less of a household’s income. By that criteria, 11.9% of Americans nationwide currently do not have access to affordable water.
But if that number isn’t shocking enough already, a new study projects it may triple over the next five years due to such factors as climate change, sanitation upgrades, water quality issues, and replacement of aging infrastructure. In a relatively short amount of time, the study projects that 35.6% of Americans could no longer have access to affordable water.
Most of these households of water poverty will be concentrated in places where incomes are low, where the infrastructure is failing, where traditional water sources are no longer available, or where declining populations can no longer support the fixed costs of their water systems.
How affordable is our water here in Groton?
Let’s do the math.
Water usage varies with location and lifestyle, but the average American uses about 100 gallons of household water per day. That’s an average of 30 gallons for outdoor usage (lawn, garden, car washing, swimming pools, etc.); 19 gallons for toilets; 15 gallons for clothes washers; 12 gallons for showers; 11 for faucets; 9 gallons for leaks; and 4 gallons for other uses.
Applying those numbers here in Groton, an average family of four can be expected to use 400 gallons per day, or 36,525 gallons on an average quarterly billing statement. Assuming that 30% of that would be on an irrigation meter, that the household is also on Town sewer, and that there are 748 gallons in a hundred cubic foot billing unit, that’s about 34 units billed at the residential rate and 15 units billed at the new irrigation rate.
An average bill would break down like this:
|$5.21||Fire Protection Charge|
|$13.00||Residential Water Meter|
|$13.00||Irrigation Water Meter|
For a more accurate calculation, we’ll make an upward adjustment of $4.80 per quarter because lawns get watered more in the summer than in the winter, and a downward adjustment of $5.21 because fire protection is not a component of household consumption.
Four quarterly bills of $611.26 would yield an annual total of $2,445.04, which would require an income of $54,334 for this combined water and sewer bill to be considered an affordable 4.5% of income for this household of four. If we remove the sewer and consider only water, four quarterly bills of $232.82 yield an annual total of $931.28, which would require an income of $46,564 to be an affordable 2% of this household’s income.
You may have noticed that my calculation uses the new water rates that went into effect this month. I estimate the water portion in our example quarterly bill is $13.76 higher than it would have been for this same household under the 2009 rates due to a $3 increase in each quarterly meter fee and $7.76 more for this household’s irrigation usage.
Customer experience will vary with specific usage, but the average family of four has experienced a 6.3% increase in their water bill over the course of 8 years, from $219.06 to $232.82, or about 0.8% per year. As long as average household incomes have been increasing in Groton at an average rate of 0.8% or more per year over that time, water bills have been taking up a smaller percentage of our income and have been becoming more affordable over time for the same level of usage.
But you also have the power to make your water bill even more affordable by using less water than the national average of 100 gallons per day per person.
- A bath takes about 36 gallons of water, while a shower with a standard shower-head takes about 5 gallons per minute, and the same shower with a water-saving shower-head takes only 2 gallons per minute. A shorter shower with a water-saving shower-head will reduce your water usage and save a lot of money.
- You can save 1 to 2 gallons per minute by turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth. You can get the same rate of savings by turning off the faucet while drying your hands after washing them, or keeping the faucet on for less time before you start shaving.
- Newer EnergyStar dishwashers use about 6 gallons of water per load, a considerable savings over older models that used up to 16 gallons, and as an added bonus the new dishwashers also use less electricity.
- When washing dishes by hand, save water by using a faucet with an aerator, by scraping off the food and soaking the dishes in a basin of soapy water before starting, and by not letting the water run between washing every dish.
- Newer low-flow toilets use 1.6 gallons per flush, while older toilets use 3 to 4 gallons per flush.
The Board of Water Commissioners is working with the Groton Water Department to roll out new meters that will catch leaks much sooner, allowing them to be repaired faster, saving water and money for customers.
The new meters and irrigation rates will encourage compliance with outdoor watering bans and conservation of outdoor water usage.
A capital survey is underway to prioritize capital spending and eliminate the shock of sudden surprises as our needs change or as our infrastructure ages.
And at the same time, we are looking at short- and long-term measures to increase water capacity in an environmentally friendly way, ensuring more resilience to drought conditions in the future.
In a world where water is projected to become less affordable, Groton is doing well and is comparatively well positioned for the future, especially with your continued assistance with ongoing conservation efforts.