Does it pay to conserve water? From a natural resource standpoint, no question: Reducing water consumption reduces energy used to transport, store, and treat water, and eases pressure on the aquifer, river, or lake from which it's drawn. Yet traditionally, Minnesota public water suppliers have provided little incentive for conservation. As a result, many Minnesotans use far more than they need. Recognizing the environmental benefit of conserving water, the 2008 Minnesota Legislature passed a law requiring public water suppliers serving more than 1,000 people to use conservation rate pricing.
Waterwise is Moneywise
"We're looking for sustainability options and management strategies so that future generations don't run out," says hydrologist Laurel Reeves, head of DNR's water appropriations program.
Under the new law, suppliers must structure fees in a way that makes users think twice about using more water than they really need. For example, they might charge a premium price over a certain base usage level, or vary rates with season to reduce peak demand. The law kicked in for the seven-county Twin Cities metro area Jan. 1, 2010. Communities in the rest of the state have until Jan. 1, 2013, to move to the new pricing.
Will conservation rates make a difference? Ask Elk River water superintendent David Berg. Two years ago, Elk River instituted three-tier rate pricing and started subsidizing smart watering systems, which automatically adjust sprinkling based on information from devices that sense environmental factors such as wind and rain. Since then, city water customers have noticeably cut back their water usage, helping delay the need for a new city well and water tower, which can top $1 million. Berg anticipates 2009 use will be down as much as 50 million gallons, thanks to the conservation rate structure and other factors.
"They were sprinkling the blacktop, they were sprinkling the sidewalk, no big deal, they thought water was free," Berg says. With the new structure and some well-placed educational programs, he says, "I think we'll be able to go a long time, if people continue conservation, before we have to drill another well."
Mary Hoff, freelance science writer