by George / GrokSurf’s San Diego / April 17, 2010
“How your water rates subsidize golf courses” is the headline in a recent Voice of San Diego article by Rob Davis that will probably stir up some indignation around town. The article says that “475 businesses, homeowners associations, golf courses and public agencies” get a 78% discount on reclaimed water which is subsidized by regular water users.
The article cites Michael Shames, executive director of UCAN, who suggests that discounted prices for reclaimed water users may be illegal, and that “City Councilwoman Donna Frye called it “out-of-whack” and promised to hold a public hearing on it.”
In a subsequent PBS Editors Roundtable discussion, Voice of San Diego executive editor Andrew Donohue said a normal discount for reclaimed water should be only 10% and that the City had been keeping the subsidy for industrial use a secret.
I really don’t see a scandal here.
First, the discount isn’t a secret (although details on its financial impact may be hard to obtain). The City’sis where the discounted water has been publicly documented. Initially the discount was only for businesses certified under the program, but presently the $0.80 per HCF price (which they wrote was a 50% discount) applies to all purchasers of reclaimed water (with the exception of Poway which is charged more because it didn’t pay certain capacity fees).
Second, the suggestion that one group is subsidizing another group sidesteps the fact that it’s looking at two classes of water–it’s not one group of potable users subsidizing another group of potable users. It may be true, though, that if reclaimed water is being sold at a loss the entire Water Department budget has to absorb that loss.
Third, to use reclaimed water requires an expensive investment in purple pipe infrastructure and plumbing, so a discount in the water price certainly makes that decision by potential new customers a little easier.
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