Monday, September 20, 2010
Recently, I attended an estate auction held in a farm yard surrounded by hovering corn stalks, mysterious metal storage structures and biting flies. Several generations of possessions were piled upon farm wagons awaiting eager bidders. On one of the wagons, I spied two cast iron water hand pumps, one red, the other green.
When a ring man held up the green one for the auctioneer to start his chant, the ring man pumped the handle up and down as if he were pumping water at a sink in an imaginary farm kitchen. But, of course, there was no water to be pumped--only the dusty air of the farm yard. At that moment, I wondered what it would be like if my pump or faucet were dry and produced only air. Many parts of this country as well as other parts of the world face that prospect.
But, alas, there WAS water to be had at the auction, though at a significant cost. A food vendor squeezed within a small trailer next to the auction site was selling bottles of drinking water for about $1 each. That works out to be about $8 per gallon or $8,000 per 1,000 gallons.
What is the point? There are two points to be made. First, safe drinking water increasingly is becoming a scare commodity, particularly as demand grows across the world.
Second, to deliver safe drinking water to our hand pumps and faucets costs more and more as time goes on. In August, Black & Veatch issued the findings of its sixth "50 Largest Cities Water and Wastewater Rate Survey." The survey found that the average annual increase in typical residential water bills from 2001-2009 was 5.3%, and for residential sewer bills, 5.5%. These annual increases were more than twice the average annual CPI-D increases of 2.4%. (See www.bv.com/top50ratesurvey)
According to Black & Veatch's analysis of the survey, causes for the bill increases included:
1. Increases in operating and maintenance expenses, such as for electricity and chemicals.
2. Lower usage, and corresponding lower revenue to cover fixed costs such as debt service.
3. Pension and health care benefits.
4. Regulatory and legal requirements.
5. Aging infrastructure, requiring replacement and upgrading.
To the list, I would add the "scarcity factor." In some areas, ground water supplies are diminishing and surface water supplies are becoming less reliable or more costly to utilize. Utility systems are being compelled to search for alternative supplies, which may involve construction of transmission pipelines or more extensive treatment facilities.
No, I did not bid on either hand pump, nor did I buy a bottle of water. I journeyed home thirsty but more appreciative of the glass of cool water from my faucet. It really was good to the last drop.
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