A California appeals court found that one city’s tiered rate system violates a constitutional limit on fees. The ruling has potentially serious implications for California, which is deep in drought.
But California isn’t the only state struggling to set an appropriate cost for water, and scarcity isn’t the only factor putting pressure on prices.
Newsha Ajami is director of urban water policy at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment. “You might now have a water scarcity problem, but you might also have a water quality problem,” she says.
Furthermore, the cost of building and maintaining infrastructure is rarely fully accounted for in water rates. “There are a lot of other municipalities that might not have the capacity or manpower or expertise to set up the rates properly … or they just don’t do it,” Ajami says.
Peter Gleick is president of the Pacific Institute. “The proper pricing of water is, frankly, a global issue,” Gleick says. “We argue about it in the West, and in California in the context of drought, but it’s a national issue as well. We ought to pay the full price of the water services we get.”
Gleick says raising rates to reflect the true cost of water is the best way to develop better infrastructure and encourage people to use less.