Saving water may cost Seattle residents dearly

Associated Press

SEATTLE — At the urging of Seattle Public Utilities, area residents reduced water use so much this year that rate increases may be needed to make up for lost revenue, officials say.

Conservation, heavily promoted by the agency which supplies water for 1.3 million residents in the city and its suburbs after an unusually dry winter and warm spring, resulted in a 15 percent decline in water use — and an $8 million revenue shortfall.

Fears of mandatory restrictions evaporated over the summer as residents installed water-saving shower heads, switched to low-flow toilets and watered lawns less often. Unusually cool weather over the summer also helped.

Some of the loss might be soaked up by operating on thinner margins, paying off less debt and postponing some projects, such as replacing pipes, but history indicates that customers who learn to use less water rarely return to more wasteful practices, utility officials say.

"It’s very significant," city council member Margaret Pageler said. "We may have to raise rates in the spring. We’re sort of waiting to see what happens with usage patterns."

The costs didn’t change, noted Mike Jackman, who ran the Bellevue water conservation program.

"No one pays for water. They pay for the system and service to get it delivered," Jackman said. "The water system is going to cost the same to operate whether you put one gallon through it or 10."

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