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By now, you've no doubt read all about California's historic drought, which is withering farmland and sparking emergency water rationing. But unless you live there, you might not realize that much of the American West is nearly as parched as the Golden State. Moderate to severe drought sprawls across the desert Southwest, the Southern Plains from
For most regions, the drought hasn't yet reached the crisis stage. But water officials, landowners and utilities aren't just waiting and hoping for the rain to return and refill shrinking reservoirs. They're actively hunting for ways to tap new water sources or cut back on usage. And they're planning for a long-term future that could be much drier than the past few decades.
Technological solutions could go a long way toward relieving drought in many areas. Graywater recycling systems, for instance, capture soapy water from shower and sink drains and clean it enough to use for flushing toilets or watering lawns. Systems large enough for a modest office building can cost
Graywater helps, but some drought-stricken communities will likely have to turn to more extreme forms of recycling. Two towns in
In essence, explains
While promising, such high-tech solutions can go only so far in freeing up new water sources. Ultimately, drought-stricken communities will rely heavily on an old-fashioned fix: conservation.
In the Southwest, the federal government is offering funds to states along the Colorado River that devise conservation plans to reduce the amount of water being withdrawn from that vital water source.
Saving water during dry periods sounds sensible enough, but it does come with a significant catch. The utilities that provide most Americans' drinking water and sewer service are facing major bills to repair or replace the nation's aging water mains and other infrastructure. However, the trend toward conservation means less demand for the one basic product that water utilities sell.
That means that many water agencies will likely have to raise their rates to compensate for falling sales. And AWWA's Roberson says many are "taking a hard look" at tacking on fixed monthly charges to water bills. More use of tiered pricing, with escalating rates for water usage above a certain threshold, is also a good bet. Utilities realize that customers don't exactly welcome such pricing plans, Roberson says. But with so much of the nation's water infrastructure in need of costly upgrades or replacement, finding sufficient revenue is critical.
So consumers should expect to pay more on their water bills over time, even if they are using less to cope with drought conditions. Conservation does pay off during dry spells, just not necessarily in the financial sense.
Copyright 2015 The Kiplinger Washington Editors
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