Does Citizens Water really want us to conserve water?

Each year, the US EPA requires public water supply providers to prepare and distribute to all customers a Drinking Water Report which identifies the extent to which the nation al drinking water standards are being met.   Copies of the 2012 report, prepared by Citizens Water of Indianapolis (which supplies Marion and portions of surrounding counties) were recently mailed to all water customers.

The guts of the report is the compliance data which is provided in tabular form, including  determinations of whether compliance was achieved.  In all cases, compliance with the Federal standards was indicated to have been achieved.  That’s good news.   

The report also contains several pages of general information.  One short section (four sentences) is titled “What can I do to conserve water?” and recommends a few familiar measures to avoid wasting water.  One is “water your lawn thoroughly once a week…”  This is bad advice.  Turfgrass goes dormant during droughts.  It normally bounces back after rainfall resumes.  It takes an extended severe drought of eight weeks or more to kill turfgrass.

Citizens Water has a conflict– it gets its revenues from water sales (and sewer fees which are based on the metered water use).  Thus it has a fundamental conflict of interest regarding water conservation.  Arguably, Citizens doesn’t really want customers to conserve.  (On a related note, the vast amounts of turfgrasss in this country are detrimental to both water quantity and water quality in our streams.  Most of these areas would be improved if they were converted to wooded and natural areas which hold rainfall and release it slowly over time).

The conflict is the reason the conservation language in the report is treated summarily. Yet after the severe 2012 drought, one might expect that Citizens would have beefed up the description to be more encouraging of water conservation practices.             

Can we expect Citizens to push very hard to encourage increased conservation as one alternative to a dam?  Probably not.   And in the event that Citizens decides to seek to become an operator of a costly dam and reservoir, ostensibly to augment low river flows during dry periods and/or to augment long-term supply, can we reasonably expect it to push very hard for more conservation by customers?   Again, not very likely.  Citizens wants to sell lots of water— to both its existing customers and by expanding its service territory into the outlying counties.  

About a year and a half ago, an employee of United Water (CW’s contract operator for the wastewater treatment system) actually said, albeit presumably facetiously, during a public meeting when he was appointed to one of the Indianapolis zoning boards, “Flush twice, that’s how I get paid”.   


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