Water – It’s Expensive

Of our monthly bills our water/sewer bill is the largest. Typically it runs about $150 a month, however it is billed quarterly so this means we get a hit of close to $500 every 3 months!

Obviously this is budgeted for but it still gives a large wince when it comes in. I’m always astonished at how expensive water actually is; so what are we paying for? So lets analyse our last 3 month water bill.

Our last bill covered 96 days and in that time we used 21ccf. Ccfs are units of 100 cubic feet or the equivalent of 748 (US) gallons. Considering the cost of the resource i’m actually surprised we aren’t billed to the decimal ccf or the gallon. So how does this compare with an “average” family? Numbers vary, but it seems that about 200 gallons for a family of four per day seems a good rule of thumb. So to compare to our bill that would be 200 X 96 / 748, which equals 25.7ccf. So we are actually not doing too badly at 81% of average!

The water itself costs $4.499 per ccf, so the water charge is $94.48.

Next comes the sewer charge, this is often the largest part of the bill. This is $10.19 per ccf so for us is $213.99.

Next we have $90 of stormwater charges. This seems to be a set amount so i’m guessing this must have no bearing on water usage and is probably just normalized across the city.

The last 2 items are $3.71 of superfund coverage. This is to pay for cleaning up the Willamette river through the city that has been affected by pollution over the last 100 years. Apparently this will take 10-15 years and cost a billion dollars. Our $1.25 a month will chip away at that cost slowly 🙂

Finally we paid $43.54 just for the right to actually have water in our house. So add all that up and it comes to $450.

So how does this compare with other cities? Our $150 a month seems to fit right into the middle of US cities. Strangely Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fresno seem to have the cheapest bills at around $50 a month. These are all desert cities and clearly have access to less rainwater than other cities (although Las Vegas gets most of its water from the Colorado River). However they are also young cities so maybe their pipes and pumping systems are more efficient. This also of course explains why on tv you always see gardens and yards in these cities with immaculate green lawns!

The most expensive water in the country is in Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta. These places are all paying around $300 a month. Of course two of these cities are very rainy so you would think they would have easy access. Maybe the taxes in Seattle and San Francisco are very high? It would certainly fit with the perception of the governance of those cities.

So our $150 a month doesn’t look that bad and is roughly inline with what we paid in Houston. However in Houston our bill would spike in the summer as we would water our yard to stop the lawns and flowers from dying. In Portland the culture is very much not to water during the dry season (July – September), in fact having a brown lawn is almost a sign of civic responsibility where as having a nice green lawn will have you being frowned at by your neighbors. Of course you still need to get out and water your trees and flowers.

By September the lawns look like they are totally dead and you worry they will ever recover. But a few weeks of rain in late autumn and they recover.

How is your water bill? What is your city’s attitude to water usage for example are hosepipe bans / water restrictions normal?


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