The Game of Pricing Water in San Diego: What Is This?

Well, this is a panel discussion. Except you don’t have to go anywhere to see it and you don’t have to write your question on a note card and give it to someone to give to the moderator.

Send it to me (scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org). Or comment and ask the panelists directly.

Nothing is more important to San Diego than its water supply. We import the vast majority of this precious resource from hundreds of miles away through a system of rivers, pumps, canals and reservoirs. Along those routes, more and more people are building homes and businesses and challenging our rights to bring so much water in from so far away.

The city of San Diego is right now discussing how it should charge consumers for water. Officials have had trouble explaining why they can’t — or don’t want to — implement a tiered-rate structure that rewards conservation and forces major consumers of water to pay for it. As reporter Rob Davis deadpanned the other day: “Someone at City Hall must really like San Diego’s existing water rate structure.”

Davis has done some excellent work chronicling the city’s struggles with this policy. But how should we price water?

I’m not going to tell you. But, along with the Equinox Center, we’ve brought together three experts to try to answer that question. And to help, Equinox has produced this excellent primer to help provide a basis for both how we price water, what we should be aiming for when setting a rate structure, and what other entities have done successfully.

So here’s how it works. Here are the panelists: Richard Carson, a professor and former chairman of the economics department at UCSD. His introductory “remarks” are here. You’ll want to read them because he flat out declares that there is no water shortage.

Lynn Reaser is the chief economist at Point Loma Nazarene University. Her first piece is here. “Economics 101 teaches that a good priced too low encourages wasteful consumption and inadequate investment in infrastructure. Water has clearly been priced this way.”

Our third panelist is Erik Bruvold, the president of the National University System Institute for Policy Research. His introduction is here. To him, it’s frustrating: “… the reluctance of the city of San Diego to move toward such a pricing scheme is, to be blunt, inexplicable.”

Please feel free to comment underneath their posts. Each day, I’ll send them questions culled from my own observations and yours. And we’ll post the responses as often and as soon as we can. Try to keep the discussion civil.

SCOTT LEWIS

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